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How “Loading & Exploding The Hips” Can Be VERY Dangerous To The Lower Back…

We’ll get to the above video, but first let me be clear…

I’m not saying the pelvis doesn’t play a role in the swing, because it does.  However, I feel this spot reserved in the swing’s sequence of movements is hyper-focused on by a majority of hitting gurus.  More and more research is saying extreme “hip thrust” or “loading and exploding the hips” can be VERY damaging to the lower back over time.  You’ll see why in a moment, but for now please note that in this podcast episode, former USA Men’s Gymnastics Coach Sommers says the lower back portion of the spine isn’t made for a high degrees of rotation, but the T-Spine is.

Another thing I want to clear up,

We don’t teach a 100% pure rotational mechanics here.  We teach a blend of linear-rotational.  Please CLICK HERE to read our thoughts on this.

In this post, we’ll cover:

  • How the spine stacks up (quick anatomy lesson),
  • Does consistent power come from the ground? And,
  • Teaching hitters a safer more effective swing.

Let’s get started…

 

How the Spine Stacks Up

Photo courtesy: MayfieldClinic.com

Here’s a quick anatomy lesson of the spine:

  • Cervical – the vertebrae in your neck, consists of 7 vertebrae, are allowed to flex, extend, and rotate,
  • Thoracic – the vertebrae in the middle of spine including shoulders, consists of 12 vertebrae, which are also allowed to flex, extend, and rotate, and
  • Lumbar – the vertebrae in lower back, consist of 5 vertebrae, and are allowed to flex and extend ONLY.
  • Sacral & Coccyx – there are 5 fused vertebrae here, and the Coccyx is sometimes referred to as the “tail” bone.

Did you catch that about the Lumbar?  It’s important, so it bares repeating…the vertebrae in the lower back IS NOT built to rotate!  Right now, you may be thinking: “Wait a minute, how’s that?!  I’ve seen millions of swings, and the hitter’s pelvis (and lower back) are rotating!!”

According to Charlie Weingroff, DPT, CSCS, a physical therapist, a trainer in New York City, and is pretty high up on the human performance food chain, says this:

“Only your thoracic spine (which consists of the 12 vertebrae in your upper and middle back) is designed to rotate significantly — about 40 degrees in each direction, according to Weingroff — when under compression. The lumbar spine (lower back) should rotate no more than about 12 degrees.”

Some movement experts (like Thomas Myers, author of the book Anatomy Trains), says the lower back can rotate no more than 7-degrees.  So according to the experts, 7 to 12-degrees is a good rotational range for the Lumbar section of the spine. That’s NOTHING compared to the 40-degrees of rotation – in each direction – of the middle and upper back section of the spine (which includes shoulders).

So what’s happening then?  You see, since the lower back vertebrae are not designed to rotate, it’s the surrounding muscles that are rotating a fixed object (non-rotating Lumbar), and is why you do see rotation.   The T-Spine vertebrae are built to rotate (again, this includes the shoulders), hence is why hitting coaches should put their rotational focus there and NOT the hips, pelvis, or low back.

Is rotating back hip through the zone necessary for power? Not in the way most coaches think.  Consider this quote from Physicist, Electrical Engineer, and author of the book The Spinal Engine, Dr. Serge Gracovetsky:

“The axial rotation of the spine cannot happen unless the spine is flexed by the right amount on the correct side. Coaching an athlete to throw without a proper spinal position is an invitation to severe torsional injuries.”

Dr. Gracovetsky is referring to this “flex” as a side bend with the shoulders.  The point is, USE THE SHOULDERS to accomplish rotational power.  Warning for coaches: if you shrug this information off because of ego or pride, and continue to teach pelvis, hip, or lower back dominant twisting swings, then you’re wearing holes in the low backs of your hitters.  Be careful because the link is there, and one can be held liable.

Don’t worry, I’ll show those coaches doing this unknowingly a safer way, at the end of this post…

 

Does Consistent Power Come from the Ground?

Water Polo Throw

Water Polo throw photo courtesy: YouTube Egy image from video

You may be thinking, but consistent power comes from the ground…the pelvis is the first to interact with Gravitational Forces, and that’s why you teach “hip thrust”. I agree with Ted Williams that the ‘Hips Lead the Way’, but they don’t contribute as much to consistent power as most think.  I know this may sound earth shattering for some, so please stay with me here.

CLICK the following link to a post I did titled, “The Swing DOES NOT Start From The Ground & Move Up?”

This brings me to the water polo throw video above…

Let me ask you a question, what do you think the “fastest throw in Water Polo” is?  Doing a Google search using those keywords brings up the following statement:

The overhand shot from a Croatian senior men’s national team player is recognized as the fastest shot in the world at 60 MPH (96.5 KPH). The overhand shot is the standard throwing motion in water polo. It is the same arm motion as a pitcher uses in baseball.”

So, let’s think about this.  In water, there are little to no Gravitational Forces, and the best human floating in water, can throw a volleyball-sized ball 60-mph?  What do you think the speed would be if this person was floating in water and threw a baseball-sized ball instead?  75-mph?  80-mph? 90-mph?  Okay, so let’s say this top-of-the-food-chain water polo player throws a baseball floating in water 80-mph.  You’re telling me a top-of-the-food-chain pitcher in the Big Leagues, throwing down a mound, can only throw 20-mph more (assuming 100-mph) than someone throwing the same ball floating in water?!

I dunno, but this begs the question, does the pelvis (and lower Lumbar), OR the shoulders (and T-Spine) contribute the most to pitching velocity AND Ball Exit Speeds?

If you need to see more examples about this, then CLICK HERE for a swing experiment titled, “How Much Ball Exit Speed Does Pelvis Contribute To A High Level Swing?” 

Consider this Tweet from one of my readers…

And I added the following comment…

So what role do I think the pelvis and low back play in the swing, if not power?  Directional force.  Allows the hitter’s swing to convert Centripetal into Centrifugal Force.  In a nutshell, the hitter’s “belt buckle” must point in the direction of the batted ball.

So what’s the answer?

 

Teaching Hitters a Safer more Effective Swing

Here are some resources to get you started, outside of the ones already mentioned:

Coaches, PLEASE get educated.  Don’t let ego or pride get in the way of helping hitters swing safe.  Like Tony Robbins says,

“If you aren’t growing, then you’re dying.”

Now Your Hitters Can Have Power Without Starting The Kinetic Chain At The Feet


I briefly viewed a hitting instructional video on YouTube the other day that one of my readers sent me (Thanks Joe),

…I won’t share who did the video, so as not to cause any embarrassment.

Like what was being illustrated in the video, I would say a majority of hitting instructors both online and off swear that the swing starts from the ground up.

This IS NOT what the current research shows as validated by human movement science.

Yes, Gravitational and Gravitational Reaction Forces do have their place (and we’ll get to that)…my point is, ALL human movement DOES NOT start from the ground, and work it’s way up the Kinetic Chain.

Consider this Tweet from one of my readers…

And I added the following comment…

What I have for you above, is a snippet of video about 5-minutes long, explaining where the swing starts as explained by Dr. Serge Gracovetsky, Physicist, Electrical Engineer, and founder of The Spinal Engine.

Here are some talking points that Dr. Gracovetsky mentions in the video (please WATCH video at the 2:00 minute mark to about the 7:00 minute mark):

  • There’s a lack of agreement in literature at what the function of the spine is.
  • Spine is generally believed to be a supporting column linking shoulders to pelvis…as we walk the trunk is thought to be carried passively by the legs.  Problem with this: WHY is shape of spine in form of an “S” instead of being straight? – straight column would support compressive loads better than a curved one right?
  • Consider 20-year-old male subject who has reduced arms and no legs…moves on his Ischium.
  • If it was true that legs are necessary for human locomotion, then a person with such an anatomy would not be able to walk.
  • With the bottom of the screen hidden [while the subject “walks” across the floor], it is impossible to tell that this man has no legs.
  • Locomotion was first achieved by movement of the spine, and the legs came after as an improvement, not a substitute.
  • When providing a lateral bend to a curved spine (lordosis), an axial torque is induced. The rotation of the pelvis and shoulders is driven by the spine.

And this is the basis for my The Catapult Loading System book on sale at Amazon.

So does the swing, or any human movement for that matter, start from the ground up?  In other words, are Gravitational Forces a necessity to move the Spinal Engine or merely an enhancement?

In an email conversation I had with Dr. Serge Gracovetsky a few years back, he said this about the relationship between gravity and spine engine mechanics:

The coupled motion has nothing to do with gravity. It works in space as well. It is a property of the spine or any flexible rod for that matter.  But the interaction with gravity makes interesting results which are exploited by every sport.”

Okay, since we’ve determined human movement DOES NOT start from the ground and go up the Kinetic Chain, I want to share a couple snippets from Dr. Gracovetsky about what role Gravitational Forces do play in dynamic movement…

Here’s a note about the importance of the heel strike in locomotion from Dr. Serge Gracovetsky in his book, The Spinal Engine (p. 168):

“…the compressive pulse generated at heel-strike is essential to the locomotion process.  The shape of this pulse must be very specific if maximum energy is to be transferred from the earth’s gravitational field to the rotating pelvis.”

According to Dr. Gracovetsky, while running, our heel hits the ground creating a compressive force that is equaled to NINE-times our body weight.  Gravity pulls our body down, and at heel strike, the ground pushes back in a compressive force.

This is why it has been demonstrated by Speed Coach Barry Ross that runners who dead-lift heavy weights with a low time under tension, get faster!  They’re able to push into the ground with more force, which in turn, the ground pushes back with equal and opposite force.

It’s also worth noting about the Spinal Engine while walking on sand versus solid ground…

Dr. Serge Gracovetsky offers this example in his book (pgs. 168-169),

“Running or walking on soft sand is not easy and is very tiring,  In this particular case, the energy leaks into the sand, the impact force is reduced, and the compressive pulse through the spine is attenuated [disabled] as the total energy recovered is reduced.”

The compressive force is softened by the sand, which doesn’t allow the pelvis to turn using efficient spine engine mechanics.  To maneuver, the brain has to recruit big muscles to do the work.  This is why you get a workout walking on sand…it’s powerless effort, rather than effortless power.

Does current research, that’s validated by science, say human movement starts from the ground, and travel up the Kinetic Chain?

No.

The trunk isn’t just a passive structure that is carried by the legs.  Legs are not a necessity to human movement – evidenced by the legless subject in the video – they’re an enhancement.  The Spinal Engine can work in space!  I say the legs and arms amplify the movement of the Spinal Engine.

Do Gravitational Forces play a role in human movement?

Yes!

Like Dr. Gracovetsky says, “…the interaction with gravity makes interesting results which are exploited by every sport.”

That my friends is a human movement principle that is validated by science.  Not philosophy or theory.  This is why my new book The Catapult Loading System is so powerful to hundreds of coaches and tens of thousands of hitters across the US… (just check the reviews 😉

 

It may be how you’re using it…

Giancarlo Stanton: Video Analysis Software Causing You To Lose Out On Repeatable Power?

Giancarlo Stanton bat lag. Photo courtesy: SBNation.com

The other day, I received a YouTube comment on my Adrian Gonzalez video:

“Ken Griffey Jr’s swing doesn’t display any handicap to the optimization of his angular momentum. His lead shoulder is pulled back leaving his hands quite close to his body.”
This viewer is referring to an early arm bar.  This is okay in golf, because they’re hitting a stationary object and not worried about timing.  Not okay in baseball and softball…
The preceding viewer doesn’t know how to manipulate the Conservation of Angular Momentum (think spinning ice skater) to time an unknown moving pitch and hit it consistently hard.  They’re mistaking the forest for the trees.
In this video post, we’ll look at:
  • Priorities: video analysis software v. human movement rules,
  • What do a bucket, hanging object, and hitter’s front arm have in common, and
  • The 90-degrees from the spine rule

 

Priorities: Video Analysis Software v. Human Movement Rules

Video analysis software: PowerChalk.com

This is the video analysis software I use from Powerchalk.com

I used to be “that guy” who poured over slow motion swing footage using state of the art video analysis software.  Slow motion analysis of hitters has become a peeing contest in hitting forums.  You know the type…they’ve studied the video…they’ve worked with [fill in the blank name] professional hitter(s)…they coached 30+ years at a high level.

These “paper tiger” credentials don’t mean a thing to me now (and they shouldn’t to you, regardless of your experience in the game)

I’ve been in corrective fitness for 10 years, and see a never-ending pattern of inefficient and flawed hitting mechanics.  FOUR reasons why today’s hitters – YES, even the professional ones – are inefficient with their swings:

  1. Athletes are more sedentary nowadays,
  2. Hitting mechanics are often over-coached and micro-managed,
  3. A majority of instructors or coaches teach what I call “backward hitting strategies”, and
  4. Mechanical cues are general, misunderstood, and ineffective.

So who has the upper hand in today’s hitting forums, when it comes to video analysis software use?  The person who understands human movement rules.  One has to understand “the rules” first.  As a result, this will cut slow motion video analysis time in half!  This is seeing the forest before the trees.

Here’s an example of what I mean…

What Do a Bucket, Hanging Object, and Hitter’s Front Arm have in Common?

Giancarlo Stanton: 90-degree bat to spine rule using video analysis software

Giancarlo Stanton from the pitcher’s view…90-degree front elbow to spine at start and impact. Photo courtesy of MLB.com

We’re going to science for optimal placement of the front upper arm to set the plane of the pitch early, before the Final Turn.  Here’s an email response I sent to one of my hitting friends, Bob Hall from Canada, about this very topic:

“Imagine a bucket with a large lip.  Punch a hole in the lip and tie a string with a rock attached to the string at the bottom.  Now, the level of the bucket lip is the shoulder angle.  If you tip the bucket towards where the rock and string are attached, the rock will continue pointing “down”, and the space between the bucket and string will widen.”

Before the Final Turn, the efficient hitter will utilize a downhill shoulder angle (tipping the lip of the bucket).  The elbow will continue to point down because of Gravity (the rock hanging from the lip), causing the light gap under the front armpit to widen.  If the hitter artificially points the elbow up or down from this natural position, then muscles will activate making the hitter’s chances of getting on pitch-plane inefficient.

This is looking to human movement rules first.  Now, let’s look under the hood using video analysis software…

 

The 90-Degrees from the Spine Rule

Giancarlo Stanton: 90-degree angle bat to spine rule from the backside.

Giancarlo Stanton from the backside: 90-degree angle rule. Photo courtesy: MLB.com

One of my readers, Kyle Harrington, posted this comment on the blog recently:

One principle is that the bat only really accelerates efficiently when it is on a single plane. The only way to get maximum acceleration of the barrel is to have the swing path at 90 degrees to the spine angle. The only way to do this is to have the lead arm high and also 90 degrees to the spine. If the hands are too high or too low when both these other conditions are met, then the swing will be off plane.”

Using Powerchalk’s motion analysis software, we can see this pretty consistently with top hitters like Giancarlo Stanton.  We can adjust to pitch height by bending at the waist, but the barrel should follow the 90-degree from the spine rule.

So, using motion analysis is good, but should take a “back seat” to understanding scientifically proven human movement rules.