Posts

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

Question: Does Having a ‘Hunched Posture’ Boost Bat Speed Over NO Hunch?

 

Baseball Hitting Drills Off Tee: Hunter Pence v. Derek Jeter Spine Position

Look at the difference between the spinal positions of Hunter Pence & Derek Jeter. Photos courtesy: MLB.com

In this baseball hitting drills off tee experiment using the Backspin batting tee, I wanted to use the Scientific Method to analyze the benefits of swinging with a ‘hunched posture’ versus ‘NO hunch’, by taking:

  • 100 swings with a ‘hunched posture’ (Global Spinal Flexion) – think Hunter Pence, and
  • 100 swings with ‘NO hunch’ (Spinal Lordosis) – think Derek Jeter…

 

Background Research

First I wanted to start off with the application of what a ‘hunched posture’ looks like in the MLB.  Look at the following hitters/pitcher, and note the similarities in the shape of their backs (or spine) before they begin rotation:

There are many more, especially in the 1960’s and ’70’s.  These hitters/pitcher either start with the ‘hunch’ or move into it before they start turning.

For the science, I recommend you read Dr. Serge Gracovetsky’s book The Spinal Engine.  I will go over a few talking points about the Posterior Ligamentous System (or PLS).  Think of the PLS as a connective tissue harness you’d use to scale down a large building.

In Dr. Gracovetsky’s aforementioned book, I’d like you to read under the subheading “Lifting While Lordosis Is Maintained” p. 82., and nd “Lifting While Lordosis Is Reduced” on p. 83.

I’m paraphrasing, but Dr. Gracovetsky says when the bend in the lower back is maintained (NO hunch), then we’re using a “muscle-predominant strategy”, and when the lower lumbar curve is taken out (hunch), then we’re tapping into the “muscle relaxation response”.

What Dr. Gracovetsky found in his research and study was that when a person picks something up from the ground that is heavier than we’re used to picking up, the back will round (hunch), muscles will turn off, and the PLS system will kick in.

You can experience the two systems (muscle v. ligament) by trying to see how long you can sit up straight in your seat…once your muscles get tired, then you’ll take on the hunched posture, letting the PLS take over.  This is why it’s so comfortable to sit slouched, and hard work to ‘keep your back straight’.

The reason for this ‘spinal safety net’ as Dr. Serge Gracovetsky alludes to, is to put the vertebrae of the spine into a safer position, also known as decompression.

My friend D @SelfDecompress on Twitter is doing just this with his clients.

One last note on the research…

CLICK HERE and read under the sub-heading “The Hitting ‘Governor'” in this HPL article about how our brain puts a limit on performance because of movement dysfunction.

Hypothesis

Based on Dr. Serge Gracovetsky’s research and study,  it is my forecast that taking on a ‘hunched posture’ before the turn, will increase average bat speed over not hunching.

I also add the same results is because of the information I included under ‘The Hitting Governor’ sub-heading in the aforementioned HPL article.

In other words, by hunching the back, thereby decompressing the vertebrae of the spine, we remove ‘The Hitting Governor’ Effect, and allow the body to optimize turning speed.

Not to mention we make the swing safer for our rotating athletes’ bodies.

 

Baseball Hitting Drills Off Tee: ‘Hunched Posture’ Experiment

Equipment Used:

Setup:

  • We used the Zepp Labs Baseball app to gain swing data.  Our concern is for an apples to apples comparison between the two sets of 100 swings.
  • All swings for the baseball hitting drills off tee ‘hunched posture’ experiment were taken off a Backspin batting tee.
  • I stayed as consistent as I could with keeping the ball height and depth the same for most swings.
  • I used two yellow dimple ball markers to make my stance setup consistent…one was placed inside my back foot, close to the plate.  The other was placed one bat’s length plus two baseballs in front of the back marker.
  • The two tests in the baseball hitting drills off tee ‘hunched posture’ experiment were counter-balanced.  Which consisted of eight blocks of 25-swings done in the following order ABBA BAAB.  ‘Hunched posture’ was letter ‘A’, and ‘NO hunch’ was letter ‘B’.  200 total swings were completed in the experiment, 100 per test.  Counter-balancing helps remove the “getting tired” and “not being sufficiently warmed up” factors.
  • Throughout the baseball hitting drills off tee swing experiment, I was drinking a Strawberry Lemonade Gatorade (because I like it!) and a chocolate milk to replenish my body’s protein, sugars, and electrolytes during the 2-hour experiment.
  • I did an 8 exercise dynamic warm up before taking about 15-20 practice swings off the tee.

 

Data Collected (Zepp App Screenshot)

Baseball Hitting Drills Off Tee: Low Back Bend Zepp Swing Experiment

Please pay particular attention to the differences in Time To Impact & Attack Angle from the Zepp metrics…

 

Data Analysis & Conclusion

As you can see from the baseball hitting drills off tee Zepp screenshot and metrics above, the big differences between the two groups of 100 swings were the average:

  • Time To Impact: the ‘hunched posture’ was .004 seconds less than ‘NO hunch’, AND
  • Attack Angle: the ‘hunched posture’ was 4-degrees more positive than ‘NO hunch’

It looks like my baseball hitting drills off tee swing experiment Hypothesis was wrong in thinking there would be a boost to average bat speed with the ‘hunched posture’ swings.  However, there were three MAJOR benefits to swinging ‘hunched’:

  • According to Dr. Gracovetsky’s research, we can conclude it’s safer on the spine,
  • A DECREASE in Time To Impact, which buys a hitter more time to make a decision to swing, and
  • A more POSITIVE barrel Attack Angle, which puts a hitter into a better position to hit more consistent line drives.
Hitting Training For Baseball & Softball Swing Trainers | Hitting Performance Lab

 

Batting Cages May Be Dangerous To Repeatable Power

“Textimonial” from Kyle – Stephen’s dad – the same night (he’s in white, I’m in blue)

I know you what you’re thinking, “Okay, so what’s wrong with hitting at the batting cages?

We’ll get to that…

But before we do, let me set the stage for what I’m about to share with you…

A glimpse into an online hitting lesson I gave to my hitter Stephen at The Feedback Lab.

I was granted permission from Kyle Harrington (Stephen’s dad), to share his 12-year-old son’s latest online hitting session with me (session #3 of 6).  They’re out of New Jersey (and I’m in Fresno, CA)…

 

What Was To Be Corrected

  • Hiding his hands from the pitcher
  • “Downhill” shoulder angle pre-turn, and
  • Maintaining 90-degree back leg angle during turn and finish.

 

Stephen 2-Months Later…

In the above video, I mentioned the difference between comparing a swing off the tee versus at the batting cages.  It’s not really an apples to apples comparison, BUT if they can repeat what we’re trying to get them to do off a tee, then the feeling to repeat it is there.  Here’s what his analysis showed:

  • Great downhill shoulder angle,
  • Much better with hiding his hands from the pitcher (could polish a little here), and
  • Much better body angle on his finish.

3-Points Worth Noting…

  1. Dad had mentioned to me, in the past 2-months, that they’ve been testing hand, butt, and hamstring tension, which might have also had an effect on Stephen’s outcomes.
  2. Stephen will be working on a better barrel launch angle using variance training mentioned in the above video.  Pay attention to the Bat Angle Experiment I referenced in the video.
  3. I give feedback based on Tony LaRussa’s “Pat & Pop Method”.  First give a “pat” on the back (what they did or are doing well), then reveal the “pop” (what they’ll be working to improve their swing).

Coaches, this is critical!!  Athletes don’t just need to be broken down all the time.  Build them up first, then offer up the constructive criticism.

 

The Danger in Batting Cages

And I’m not talking about Happy Gilmore style…

Someone smart once said:

“Practice like you play, so you play like you practice.”

Most coaches have their players do what’s referred to as “massed practice”at the batting cages.  For example, if you needed work on hitting off speed and breaking pitches, a massed practice would look like the following scenario…a pitcher throws each hitter:

  • 15 fastballs, then
  • 15 curveballs, and
  • Lastly 15 changeups…

But this isn’t what it’s like in the game.  The hitter rarely knows, with 100% certainty, which pitch, speed, and location they’re getting.  So practice MUST reflect this dynamic in training.  And hitting at the batting cages limits the amount of variance we can work into our practice.

I do a few things with my more advanced hitters (mechanically speaking), to mix things up:

We may not practice all these at once.  Coaches, our objective with our hitters is to move them to the verge of “meltdown” with variance.  Then bring them back.  Then rebuild.  I hope this helps!

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

 

Sadaharu Oh: 5'10" 173-lbs, 868 Dingers Over 22-Years - How?

Sadaharu Oh photo courtesy: rnishi.wordpress.com

According to Baseball-Reference.com, the “Barry Bonds” of Japanese baseball, Sadaharu Oh:

  • Is 5-foot, 173-pounds, and
  • Hit 868 homers in 22 years (that’s almost 40/season!!)…

How did he do this?

Sadaharu Oh Analysis: Your Mission, if you Choose to Accept it…

Watch the above hitting footage, and identify – what you think – are the two most critical things contributing to his consistent power at the plate over a 22-year span.

Of course, Sadaharu Oh probably wouldn’t have put up those kind of numbers against today’s Major League pitchers.  BUT still…his body type…that many homers…for that long???!

Also, did you know he has a hitting book out?  It’s called “A Zen Way Of Baseball“.

I had an interesting conversation about Oh with one of my colleagues about if he were playing today, and was recruited over to the MLB, that coaches/instructors would probably make him a slap happy version of Ichiro Suzuki.

This actually makes A LOT of sense when you look at conventional American baseball/softball wisdom to make a “small left handed hitter” into a situational groundball inducing machine.  There NEVER would have been a “Sadaharu Oh”!

I agree there are roles to play in a lineup, and of course there’s a time and place for situational hitting, but if we taught ALL our hitters effective hitting mechanics, then what kind of metrics could a small slugger put up in-between?

Could we have a Dustin Pedroia-type who hits a 162-game average 15 dingers and 44 doubles?!  In addition, to be a bunting, hit-and-run, move ’em over extraordinaire!  Why can’t EVERY hitter experience repeatable power…?

A couple things to keep in mind when analyzing and commenting:

  • Use human movement science as a rule of thumb (un-weighting, spinal engine mechanics, springy fascia, etc.),
  • Be open minded and positive in the comments (no “spitting” on someone’s shoes PLEASE),
  • Clarify by giving a “time stamp” in the video to see what you may be talking about…

You can post your thoughts in the “Leave a Reply” section below…

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

 

Matt Kemp: Unique Ted Williams Power Secret

Matt Kemp faulty “braking” Functional Lines? Yep, look at his left shoulder higher than his right during the finish. Photo courtesy: ThinkBlueLA.com

Imagine if I asked you to take a ride in my 2-year-old son’s favorite sports car and ultimate luxury vehicle, the Lamborghini Aventador…cherry red.

Costs about $400K, has 720 horse-power, and goes zero to sixty-mph in 2.8 seconds.  I’m drooling just thinking about it.  What if I also told you it had no brakes.  The manufacturer just “forgot” to install them.  If you know I have a lead foot, then would you still want a ride?

I tell my hitters that someone like Matt Kemp or Ted Williams are using both rotational and anti-rotational systems during the swing.

Think of them as acceleration and braking systems, and both are important to a friction-free swing.  Our focus today will be optimizing these systems during the stroke.  We’re going to highlight:

  • The science of accelerating & braking systems,
  • Matt Kemp & Ted Williams (who has the more efficient braking system?)
  • How to tune-up your acceleration & braking system.

 

The Science of Accelerating & Braking Systems

Graphic of Thomas Myers's Functional Lines in his book Anatomy Trains

Front & Back Functional Lines from Thomas Myers’s book Anatomy Trains. Photo courtesy: AnatomyTrains.it

Thomas Myers in his book Anatomy Trains talks about 9 different fascial lines found throughout the body that inter-weave and inter-relate during human movement.  We’ll be highlighting one in particular called the Functional Lines (pictured right).  CLICK HERE for a brief background on springy fascia.

Thomas Myers says that Functional Lines mainly come into play in the following athletic events:

  • Shot Put, Javelin, Discus, and Hammer Throws,
  • Tennis,
  • Golf, and of course
  • For hitters like Matt Kemp & Ted Williams

Thomas Myers says,

“These lines enable us to give extra power and precision to the movements of the limbs by lengthening their lever arm through linking them across the body to the opposite limb in the other girdle.”

Imagine a big “X” painted on your chest and back, connecting the right shoulder to the left hip, and vice versa.  Thomas Myers refers to them as Front Functional Lines (FFL) & Back Functional Lines (BFL).  He uses a couple different examples to illustrate the braking system in action:

“Pitching a baseball or bowling a cricket are perfect ways to engage these lines: the wind-up involves a shortening of the BFL and a stretching of the FFL, while the pitch itself reverses that process, shortening the FFL and stretching the BFL.  In the final act, the BFL acts as a brake to keep the strong contraction along the FFL and the momentum of the arm from going too far and damaging joints involved in the movement.”

You still following me?  It’s okay if not.  We’ll simplify in the next section…

Matt Kemp & Ted Williams (who has the more effective braking system?)

I want to compare Matt Kemp to Ted Williams because they have similar body types, according to Baseball-Reference.com:

Simplifying the acceleration/braking systems, we can just follow the front shoulder to see who is being more efficient with their Functional Lines.  Consider Ted Williams:

Ted Williams front shoulder path

Follow yellow arrows tracking Ted Williams’s front (right) shoulder path…photo left to right: 1) Down, 2) Up, and 3) Down again.

Now, check out the difference with Matt Kemp:

Matt Kemp front shoulder path

Follow yellow arrows tracking Matt Kemp’s front (left) shoulder path…photo left to right: 1) Slightly Down, 2) Up, and 3) Up again.

That’s right, Matt Kemp finishes with his left shoulder up!  Not convinced?   Check out the photo of his finish at the beginning of this post.  He’s not being very efficient with his braking system.  Matt Kemp is leaving repeatable power on the table (which is scary!)…to polish, he’d have to:

  • Get more downhill shoulder angle before landing,
  • Show more of his numbers to the pitcher, and
  • Focus on finishing “barrel down” with his top hand release.

 

 How-to Tune-Up Your Acceleration & Braking Systems

There are a couple quick exercises and stretches that Thomas Myers recommends to tune-up both Functional Lines:

  1. Engage BFL (Alternating Supermans) – 2 sets X 12 reps each side.  Focus on moving the body as a whole.  Arm and leg are to be lifted at exactly same time.  Head stays in line with spine.  Don’t arch head back like in video.
  2. Engage FFL (Alternating Supermans) – same as #1, but do Alternating Supermans on your back.
  3. Stretch BFL (Triangle Yoga Pose) – Hold position on each side for a deep breath count of 5-10.
  4. Stretch FFL (1/2 Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch w/ Rotation) – hold position on each side for about 60-seconds.  Keep the abs and “down knee” glute contracted during stretch.

Do the above four 1-2 times daily for 3-weeks.

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

2014 AL MVP Mike Trout down shoulders photo courtesy: TheSportsQuotient.com

Yes, hitters can build consistent explosive rotational power into their swings by learning from tennis players and baseball pitching athletes.  CLICK HERE to check out this “Pitching Instruction Secrets for Hitters” video post I did featuring 2014 World Series MVP Madison Bumgarner.

I received an email from a teacher in Portugal named Alexandra Franco.  She plays competitive tennis and is also a tennis instructor.  She recently purchased my Truth About Explosive Rotational Power online video course to help her teach and play tennis better.  She asked a lot of really good questions around how the spinal engine mechanics I’m teaching my hitters related to serving a tennis ball…

In this video, we’re going to explore Dr. Serge Gracovetsky’s Spinal Engine Mechanics, as they relate to:

  • Moving the spine for performance,
  • Comparing Alexandra’s serve to Roger Federer’s, and
  • Apply key baseball pitching & tennis principles to hitting for repeatable power…

 

Moving the Spine for Performance

Dr. Serge Gracovetsky, in his book The Spinal Engine says,

“The spine cannot be rotated axially without flexing.  The spinal engine theory requires the lumbar spine to be flexed laterally if an axial torque is to be induced.”

Baseball Pitching (Clayton Kershaw) + Roger Federer = Repeatable Power (Hitting Video)

2014 NL CY Young & MVP award winner Clayton Kershaw angling his shoulders up photo courtesy: LATimes.com

According to Dr. Gracovetsky, there are three possible spinal movements:

  1. Extension (lordosis)/Flexion – standing tall, or arching the lower back.  And think of Flexion as rounding the back,
  2. Lateral Flexion or Side bending – standing tall, then flexing the upper body sideways at the waist, and
  3. Axial Rotation – this is the shoulders rotating opposite the pelvis.  Think of this as torque or how a gear box works.

He then adds that if two of the above are present, then almost always the end result is the third.  All explosive rotational athletes, have to abide by these rules to human movement.  Let’s see how Alexandra and Roger Federer use a combination of the above three spinal movements for performance…

 

Comparing Tennis Serve of Alexandra to Roger Federer

Roger Federer angling shoulders up at apex of the ball

World tennis champion Roger Federer angling his shoulders up photo courtesy: WorldTennisMagazine.com

Here are some key differences Alexandra can use to up her tennis serve…Roger Federer tends to:

  • Bend both knees as he throws the ball in the air, which helps with
  • Maintaining strict alignment with his head and spine as he globally extends (head & spine as one piece) over his heels,
  • As he’s doing this, he angles his shoulders up towards the apex of the ball causing an extreme side bend of the spine (in the video, look how low his back shoulder gets compared to his front), and
  • Going into axial rotation to hit the ball, watch how both elbows move counter-clockwise, at the same time, and on the same plane with the shot.

 

Apply Key Baseball Pitching & Tennis Principles to Hitting for Repeatable Power

A page out of Dr. Serge Gracovetsky's book The Spinal Engine for baseball pitching...

A page out of Dr. Serge Gracovetsky’s book The Spinal Engine…

The tennis serve and baseball pitching mechanics are very similar.  Dr. Serge Gracovetsky says,

“The large torque required to propel the baseball demands such a large amount of lateral bending that the pelvis must be rocked as well.  It is this requirement that precipitates the characteristic lift of the left leg before the throw.”

One of the key differences to hitting is the shoulder angle (lateral bend).  Hitters need to move the front shoulder slightly down to hit the ball up.  I get this with my hitters by cuing them to raise the back elbow at or above the top hand (see Trout photo above).

Whereas baseball pitching athletes, like 2014 NL Cy Young and MVP Award winner Clayton Kershaw, and Roger Federer need to angle the front shoulder up before throwing or hitting the ball down.

One last thought from Dr. Serge Gracovetsky about proper spinal engine mechanics for explosive rotational athletes:

“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.”

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

Alex Gordon: Top Out Bat Speed By Striding Closed?

 

Alex Gordon VIDEO: Avoid This Stupid Mistake?

Alex Gordon Game 7 Double in 2014 World Series, striding open photo courtesy: MLB.com

Question: Does Striding Front Leg Closed Increase OR Decrease Bat Speed?

I was taught my whole playing career to stride front foot closed.  Using the Zepp (Labs) Baseball app, I wanted to use the Scientific Method to analyze whether striding with the front leg closed will have a positive or negative effect on bat speed.

Background Research

Here are a couple posts to further your understanding of spinal engine mechanics, as we move to discover what effect striding with a closed front leg will ultimately have on bat speed…

Also, CLICK HERE to watch this video from ZenoLink’s Chris Welch on stride principles.

Hypothesis

Based primarily on my research and study of Dr. Serge Gracovetsky’s book The Spinal Engine, I believe landing with an open front leg – like Alex Gordon – will result in increased bat speed and farther batted ball distance.  Landing closed with the front leg – like Kansas City Royals catcher Salvador Perez (who popped out to end the 2014 World Series) – will result in an inefficiency to hitting inside and high pitches.  And will allow other compensations to occur such as rolling over, pulling the head, and the front shoulder flying open.

Alex Gordon: Striding Open/Closed Experiment

Equipment Used:

Setup:

  • Yellow dimple ball feedback markers = my bat length, plus two baseballs
  • Distance from plate = end of the bat touching inside corner of plate, and knob of bat touching my mid-thigh
  • Tee was set one baseball’s length behind the front feedback marker, and tee height was about mid-thigh
  • Forward momentum was eliminated in this experiment, and I hit from a 1-2 second pause at landing
  • First 100 baseballs hit I was striding with a CLOSED front leg
  • Last 100 baseballs hit I was striding with an OPEN front leg
  • There was about 15-30 minute break between both Alex Gordon & Salvador Perez Experiments

Data Collected (Zepp Baseball App):

Alex Gordon: Top Out Bat Speed By Striding Open?

First 100 balls (striding CLOSED), last 100 balls (striding OPEN)

Data Analysis & Conclusion

Observations from the Zepp Baseball app screen capture above:

  • Striding OPEN added 1-mph of bat speed on average
  • Interestingly, striding CLOSED added 0.024 “Time To Impact” on average

Not much change there…but the devil’s in the details…

Alex Gordon Closed/Open Stride Experiment

Breakdown of Alex Gordon Striding Closed Experiment (swings & bat speed)

  • Striding CLOSED shifted bat speed downstream into the [< 69] to [70-74-mph] ranges
  • Striding OPEN shifted bat speed upstream into the [75-79] to [80+ mph] ranges
  • Striding CLOSED top out bat speed was 81-mph…80-mph (once) and 81-mph (twice)
  • Striding OPEN top out bat speed was 83-mph…80-mph (6-times), 81-mph (3-times), 82-mph (3-times), & 83-mph (once)

 

Notes

Alex Gordon: Top Out Bat Speed By Striding Closed?

Salvador Perez never had a chance striding closed against Madison Bumgarner photo courtesy: MLB.com

  • Striding open with the front leg definitely increased top out bat speed (83-mph v. 81-mph).
  • There was a better chance to maintain higher bat speeds with striding open.
  • During the Alex Gordon Experiment, when striding front leg open, my front foot was at a 45-70 degree angle.
  • I also felt that I had an easier time accelerating the barrel down (towards catcher’s glove) when my stride leg was open, which helped keep my bat speed more consistent.  I felt like I had to pull across my body (or chop down) striding with a closed front leg, which made my bat speed more erratic during the first part of the Experiment.
  • I purposely eliminated forward momentum from the Experiment because I wanted to isolate how much striding closed took away from bat speed.  In addition, I wanted to preserve accuracy in execution with the two different mechanical scenarios.

 

The Bottom Line?

Spinal engine mechanics drive all human movement, according to Dr. Serge Gracovetsky.  When we do things to hinder efficient spinal engine mechanics, reciprocal inhibition takes over depressing a hitter’s ability to maintain higher bat speeds over longer periods.  In addition, striding with a closed front leg will cause a hitter to be inefficient getting to inside and higher pitches.  A great number of coaches teach hitters to stride with the “front foot closed”.  This is the very reason the following compensations occur that these coaches waste their time trying to correct!!

  • Front shoulder flying open,
  • Head pulling out, and
  • A shorter hand and barrel path to the ball, resulting in the
  • Barrel having limited time on the plane of the pitch, which increases mis-hits and strikeouts.

This is why I think Salvador Perez had a hard time handling Madison Bumgarner.  MadBum kept busting him up and in.  Because Salvador Perez strides closed I believe this stunted his chances of knocking in Alex Gordon from third at the end of the game.