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Hitting Training For Baseball & Softball Swing Trainers | Hitting Performance Lab
Perfect Swing Hacking With Forward Momentum: Mike Trout

Note the gentleman in the stands with the hat and Mariners shirt on (red arrow) as Mike Trout’s head moves forward to landing. Photo courtesy: YouTube user: PastTimeAthletics.com

The most common objection I hear from my hitters is that…

Their coaches are dumping on them for using forward momentum.

Because – they say – there’s too much head movement!

These coaches keep saying the perfect swing shouldn’t have head movement.

In a way, they’re right!

But there’s a bit of confusion as to when head movement is okay…and not okay.

You see, the perfect swing, has head movement.  ALL dynamic movement does.  Did you know our head bobs up and down when we walk and run?  Try watching television upside down and you’ll see it clear as day.

But it’s the timing of head movement that matters.

In this post, we’re going over:

  • Balance without thinking,
  • Debunking a common objection & a study, AND
  • Perfect swing examples…

 

Balance Without Thinking

Proprioception.  I know it’s a big ugly word.  But it has A LOT to do with the perfect swing.  At least when we talk about head movement.

Experiencing proprioception is easier than saying the word itself!

Try this…

Stand up, lift one leg, and close your eyes…

You feel your standing ankle and foot wobbling to balance your body?

This balance happens without you having to think about it.  It’s an unconscious process, like breathing.

Here’s how balance without thinking breaks down when looking at the perfect swing…

  • Scenario #1 The Sit Back Hitter – during stride, keep 60% of weight on BACK leg, being soft with the landing foot like you’re stepping on unbroken eggshells.
  • Scenario #2 The Forward Momentum Hitter – during stride, commit 60% of body weight to FRONT leg at landing, thereby breaking the “eggshells” in scenario #1.

Let’s apply proprioception to where the two scenarios left off above…

In Scenario #1, to bring the body back to balance, the brain shifts the weight forward during the Final Turn.  In other words, the heads moves later.

In scenario #2, to restore balance, the brain shifts the weight back during the Final Turn.  Because of the transfer of linear into angular momentum, the head will become the center axis of rotation along with the spine.

So we sacrifice head movement early, for little to no head movement later.

Do an experiment with the two scenarios above.  Record your swing using the Coaches Eye or Ubersense app.  Try and swing as hard as you can under complete control.  And note the change in head position between the two scenarios.

In a perfect swing, you’re going to have head movement.  But the question is, when do you want it?  BEFORE or DURING the Final Turn?

Debunking a Common Objection & a Study

CLICK HERE for a great FanGraphs study that Dan Farnsworth did on June 17, 2013 titled “Breaking Down the Swing: Best Hitters of 2012”.

Scroll down a ways and start reading under the section: “Keep Your Head Still”.

Farnsworth compiled a list of the top 50 hitters from the 2012 season according to Fangraphs’ Batting component of WAR.  He looked at side views of each of these hitters from highlights of the 2012 season in which each player hit a homerun.  You can read the details of how he compiled his measurements in his post.

As Farnsworth says, the main complaint coaches have with Forward Momentum, or early head movement, is that moving the head forward “speeds up the ball”.  This may be true…

But during the stride, the hitter hasn’t made a definitive decision to swing yet.  So again, if you know head movement is inevitable during dynamic movement, then when do you want it to happen?  BEFORE or DURING the Final Turn?

Does a quarterback “rolling out” to throw to a fast moving receiver have head movement?  Yes, until his plant leg hits the ground before throwing.  Does a soccer player have head movement quickly dribbling the ball down the field to get closer to the goal, weaving in and out of defenders?  Yes, until their plant foot hits the ground to kick.  I can go on and one with Olympic Throwers and Shot Putters!

Really think about the answer to that question.

 

Perfect Swing Examples…

When you watch the following videos, pick out someone or something in the stands behind the hitter to use as a frame of reference in watching for head movement. The following examples were the TOP-5 OPS (On-Base Plus Slugging Percentage) hitters in 2014:

1. Victor Martinez

2. Jose Abreu

3. Andrew McCutchen

4. Giancarlo Stanton

5. Mike Trout

Hitting Training For Baseball & Softball Swing Trainers | Hitting Performance Lab

 

Batting Practice Secrets To Fix Swinging Too Hard (a la Yoenis Cespedes)

Yoenis Cespedes caveman swinging. This tightens the head, neck, and shoulder muscles, which pulls the head off the ball. Photo courtesy of Metro.us

Batting practice and training seems to be met with a caveman’s mentality…Me see ball.  Me swing bat hard.  Me crush ball far.  I can always tell when a young hitter is swinging too hard by the following:

  1. Pulling the head,
  2. A clenched jaw, and/or
  3. NO balance upon the follow through.

One great Big League example of caveman swinging is Yoenis Cespedes of the Boston Red Sox.  In this video, we’re going to talk about how to correct swinging harder:

  • Problem with Reciprocal Inhibition relating to improper batting practice,
  • Cadence is key, and
  • Proprioception and swinging blind…

 

Problem with Reciprocal Inhibition Relating to Improper Batting Practice

Watch this simple demonstration on Reciprocal Inhibition (RI) from a Physical Therapist (start at the 0:38 mark):

Consider this:

  1. Imagine bicep curling a 25-pound dumbbell…bicep contracts while brain tells muscle on opposite side (tricep) to contract less,
  2. Now think about holding the same 25-pound dumbbell in mid-curl, arm is at a 90-degree angle, and forearm is parallel to the ground…
Reciprocal Inhibition

The quad (green) contracting more, while the hamstring (red) contracts less in this stretch. Photo courtesy: BandhayYoga.com

What’s happening there on #2 above?

It’s called an isometric muscle contraction, and is when both the bicep and tricep are contracting equally on both sides.

Your brain is smart.  One of it’s many jobs is to manage tension around a joint (i.e. the elbow).  To protect it.  When you have bicep tendinitis, the length-tension relationship is upset.  What happens is, the brain tells a muscle to tighten protecting a particular joint, until length-tension balance is restored…

How do you fix this?

According to the Physical Therapist in the above video link, you strengthen the muscles opposite the tight area.  The brain can then contract the tight area less and restoring the length-tension relationship around the joint.  And this ADDS more efficiency to dynamic movement…

Otherwise, this would be like driving your car with the parking brake on!

During batting practice (or in games), when we swing too hard, we’re driving the car with the parking brake on.  It seems counter-intuitive to what we normally would think.  But bio-mechanically speaking, this would be like the #2 scenario of the bicep -mid-curl above.  We see the head pull out and jaw tighten because the brain is protecting the joints in the neck (C-Spine) and jaw from overload.  And this can cause the hitter NOT be balanced in the follow through.

Cadence is Key

Did you know there’s a specific cadence, or tempo, to repetitive human movement?  According to the book Chi Running: A Revolutionary Approach to Effortless, Injury-Free Running, by Danny and Katherine Dreyer, consider these two popular long distance movements:

  • Running – count how many times the right arm swings forward per minute.  It should be between 85-90 times.  Whether uphill or downhill.
  • Cycling – count each time the right knee floats up per minute while pedaling.  Should be 85-90 times.  Top cyclists change gears uphill or downhill to keep within these guidelines.

Faster than that, and tempo gets disrupted…parking brake gets applied.  Batting practice is no different when it comes to a specific tempo.  I once read someone say in a hitting forum that you have to swing as hard as you possibly can…wait for it…under COMPLETE control…

 

 Proprioception & Swinging Blind

Batting Practice Secrets To Fix Swinging Too Hard (a al Yoenis Cespedes)

Yoenis Cespedes swinging blind photo courtesy: MLB.com 😛

I know that’s a big scary word, but experiencing it is easy…stand on one foot, now shut your eyes.  You’ve just experienced Proprioception.

The best fix for swinging too hard is…drum roll please….

Swinging with your eyes closed.  Remember what I wrote about a hitter swings as hard as possible…under COMPLETE control?

This is how to practice taking the parking brake off during batting practice and games.

Also, remember the symptoms of swinging too hard I mentioned at the beginning of this video post…?  Here are the fixes:

  • Pulling the head – the chin should be somewhere slightly out front of impact,
  • A clenched jaw – get the hitter to keep a small gap between their molars as they’re swinging, AND
  • NO balance upon the follow through – have the hitter practice swinging as hard as they can with their eyes closed, while keeping balance.  If they fall over, then they’re swinging too hard.

The latter one, please DO NOT have them do this around any sharp or breakable objects that might hurt them :-/  You see, Yoenis Cespedes can win two All-Star home-run derbies in a row because he knows what pitch is coming, at what speed, and what location (for the most part).  He can get away from pulling his head.  In a game?  It’s a different

 

BONUS Material

Want to help put the batting practice parking brake on vacation?  Here are my two favorite corrective exercises that a majority of my new hitters have a problem with:

  1. Passive Leg Lower (hip mobility) – week one: 1 set X 12 reps each leg, week two: 1 set X 15 reps each leg, week three: 2 sets X 12 reps each leg, and week four: 2 sets X 15 reps each leg…do once daily.  Will increase running stride length, which indirectly can help them run faster.
  2. Ankle Circles (ankle mobility) – do three circles clockwise AND counterclockwise at each ankle position…do at least 2-3 times per day everyday.  Can get rid of shin splints and plantar fasciitis.