Home Posts tagged "Baseball Swing"

What (Physically) Goes Into a Good Swing

Cressey Sports Performance athlete Chris Taylor had a big go-ahead 2-run HR last night for the Dodgers - and the second I saw this photo of his swing on Instagram, I immediately got to thinking about how great a representation it is of the demands of the swing.

 

CT3 for the lead! #LADetermined

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As a right-handed hitter, the pelvis rotates counterclockwise toward the pitcher during the swing. However, "counterclockwise" doesn't really do justice to the fact that it's actually hip movement in three planes: rotation (transverse), abduction (frontal), and extension (sagittal). Additionally, earlier in the swing, the torso actually rotates clockwise to create the separation that allow for greater storage of elastic energy and sets the stage for the barrel getting to the zone at the right time and angle - and for as long as possible. This reminds us that you can't have good swing mechanics if you don't have mobility in the hips and thoracic spine, and adequate stability in the core to prevent any energy leaks.

More specific to this photo, though, is the fact that all that motion from the trailing leg has taken place, which means all the force has been transferred forward - and something has to "accept it." We often use the analogy of riding a bike into a curb; if the curb isn't hard, the kid doesn't get launched over the handlebars. In this case, the "firm curb" is the front leg creating a blocking effect as the hip extensors and external rotators (glutes!) eccentrically control that aggressive force transfer into the lead leg. As you'll see in this photo, sometimes the tri-planar forces are so significant that guys might even roll to the lateral aspect of their shoes. And, unless they're in a great pair of New Balance cleats, they might even "swing out of their shoes" (yes, you'll sometimes see guys fold over the side of cleats that don't have good lateral stability).

Anyway, let's take this example to an untrained 15-year-old who doesn't have the strength, motor control, and mobility foundation that Chris has here. There's a good chance he's going to go to the wrong places to find a lot of this motion to generate, transfer, or accept force - and the most common spot is the lower back. You'll commonly see stress fractures and annoying tightness in this region in these kids because the lumbar spine isn't conditioned to produce force or go through significant rotational motion. Watch one of these kids go through a simple bowler squat and they usually fold up line a lawn chair.

In my experience (both in pitching and hitting), the kids most at risk are the ones who grow quickly at a young age. They have long levers that help them to generate velocity, but insufficient physical strength and range of motion to dissipate these aggressive patterns as they get to this position and beyond. They're all gas and no brakes.

Chicks can't dig the long ball if you're in a back brace because you ignored your hip and thoracic mobility and core stability. Take as much pride in your physical preparation as you do in your swing. Chris sure does!

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Tinkering vs. Overhauling – and the Problems with “Average”

Over the past year or so, Cubs pitcher Jake Arrieta has been a highly celebrated MLB athlete not only for his dominant performances (including two no-hitters) on the mound, but also for "reincarnating" his career with a new organization. Previously, Arrieta had been a member of the Baltimore Orioles organization - and while he had been a Major League regular, his performance had been relatively unremarkable. That all changed when he arrived in Chicago.

Arrieta

Source: Yahoo Sports

In Tom Verducci's recent piece for Sports Illustrated, Arrieta detailed that his struggles with the Orioles were heavily impacted by constant adjustments with everything from mechanics, to pitch selection, to where he stood on the rubber. He was even quoted as saying, "I pitched for years not being comfortable with anything I was doing. I was trying to be somebody else."

I'm always cautious to take everything I hear in the sports media with a grain of salt, and this blog is certainly not intended to be a criticism of anyone in the Orioles organization. However, what I can say is that this story isn't unfamiliar in the world of Major League Baseball. There is a lot of overcoaching that goes on as many coaches try to fit pitchers and hitters into specific mechanic models. In other words, rather than looking for ways to make Jake Arrieta into the best Jake Arrieta possible, some coaches look to make athletes into Greg Maddux or Nolan Ryan - and they usually wind up with Henry Rowengartner (minus the arm speed).

Rookie_of_the_year

This "phenomenon" isn't confined to baseball, however. In his outstanding book, The End of Average, Harvard professor Todd Rose, writes: "The real difficulty is not finding new ways to distinguish talent; it is getting rid of the one dimensional blinders that prevented us from seeing it all along." Moreover, he adds, "We live in a world that demands we be the same as everyone else - only better - and reduces the American dream to a narrow yearning to be relatively better than the people around us rather than the best version of ourselves."

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As Rose notes, we can extend this concept to the idea of standardized testing for students and conventional hiring procedures for new employees, both of which often overlook the brilliant individuals among us who may be wildly capable of remarkable contributions if put in the right situations. In short, pushing the "average" rarely allows anyone to demonstrate - let alone leverage - their unique potential.

This is where coaching becomes more of an art than just a science. On the pitching side of things, we know there are certain positions all successful pitchers get to in their deliveries - and there are certainly bad positions they should probably avoid to stay healthy. With that said, we have to "reconcile" this knowledge with the realization that some of these "bad positions" may help pitchers generate greater velocity, influence pitch movement, or add deception. If we try to change them - especially at the highest level - we may take away exactly what makes a pitcher successful. 

You can draw parallels in a lifting environment. Some of the best deadlifters of all time pull conventional, and others use a sumo stance. Their individual anthropometry, training histories, and success to date govern the decision of how to pick heavy things up off the ground.

It's important to note, however, that it's very easy to play Monday Morning Quarterback in situations like these, as hindsight is always 20/20. Long-time CSP athlete Corey Kluber won the American League Cy Young award in 2014 in large part because he switched to a 2-seam fastball with the help of Indians pitching coaches Ruben Niebla and Mickey Calloway. And, another long-time CSP athlete, Jeremy Hazelbaker, is one of the feel-good stories of Major League Baseball after a subtle adjustment to his swing from a Midwest hitting coach, Mike Shirley, yielded huge results and put him on the Cardinals opening day roster after seven years in the minor leagues.

Arrieta's Cubs teammate Jason Hammel spent some time with us at Cressey Sports Performance this off-season and made some mechanical adjustments, and he is off to a good start with a 4-0 record and 1.85 ERA. The point is that we hear a lot more about failures than we do about success stories, and it's really easy to rant when things don't work out. Subtle adjustments that keep guys healthy and confident don't always show up on the radar - and as a result, some really important and tactful coaches from all walks of life don't always get the recognition they deserve.

So when is it right to tinker on the coaching side? And, are there commonalities among what we'd see in pitchers, lifters, and other facets of the performance world? Here are seven questions I think you need to ask to determine whether the time is right to make a change:

1. Has the athlete been injured using the approach?

If an athlete can't stay healthy, a change might be imperative.

2. Has the athlete stagnated or been ineffective with the approach?

The more an athlete struggles doing it his way, the more open he'll be to modifying an approach. Career minor leaguers will buy in a lot easier than big leaguers - and the minor leaguers definitely have much less to lose if things don't work out. Conversely, Jason Hammel already had over eight years of MLB service time before I even met him; we weren't about to drastically change things.

3. Is the athlete novice enough that a change is easy to acquire and implement?

It's a lot easier to correct a 135-pound deadlift than it is to correct a 500-pound deadlift. You're best of fixing faulty patterns before a lifter has years to accumulate volume of loading the dysfunction. This is one reason why I'd rather work with a young athlete before he has a chance to start lifting on his own; there aren't any bad patterns to "undo."

4. What's the minimum effective dose that can be applied to "test the waters" of change?

Can a "tinker" be applied instead of an "overhaul?" Switching from a 4-seam fastball to a 2-seam fastball is a lot less aggressive than switching from a 4-seam fastball to a knuckleball. And, it's probably easier to go from an ultra-wise sumo deadlift to a narrower sumo stance than it is to go all the way to a conventional set-up.

5. How can you involve the athlete in the decision-making process with respect to modifications?

The concept of cognitive dissonance tells us that people really don't like conflict and generally like to avoid it. This works hand-in-hand with the concept of confirmation bias; we like to hear information that agrees with our beliefs and actions. In their fantastic book, Decisive, Chip and Dan Heath write, “In reviewing more than 91 studies of over 8,000 participants, the researchers concluded that we are more than twice as likely to favor confirming information than dis-confirming information.” Furthermore, the Heaths note, “The confirmation bias also increased when people had previously invested a lot of time or effort in a given issue.”

How, then, can we involve our athletes and clients in the decision-making process so that they effectively feel that the necessary changes are their ideas? And, can we regularly solicit feedback along the way to emphasize that it's "their show?"

6. How can we change the situation rather than the person?

In Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard, another great read from the Heath brothers, the authors note that you will almost never effect quick change a person, but you can always work to change the situation that governs how a person acts. If a pitcher's velocity isn't very good in the first inning (particularly during colder times of year), there's a good chance he needs to extend his warm-up. However, many pitchers are very rigid about messing with pre-game routines. Maybe you just encourage him to do more of it inside where it's warmer, or have him wear a long-sleeve shirt until he starts sweating. Here, you're impacting his surroundings far more than his beliefs.

7. Can the change be more efficiently implemented utilizing an athlete or client's learning style?

All individuals have slightly different learning styles (one more reason "average"coaching isn't optimal). Some athletes simply need to be told what to do. Others can just observe an exercise to learn it. Finally, there are those who need to actually be put in the right position to feel and exercise and learn it that way. And, you can even break these three categories down even further with more specific visual, auditory, and kinesthetic awareness coaching cues. The more we understand individual learning styles, the more we can streamline our coaching with clear and concise direction. If a adjustment is perceived easy to understand and implement, an athlete will be far more likely to "buy in."

Closing Thoughts

On the whole, I think there is a lot of over-coaching going on in today's sports. Above all else, I think us coaches need to talk less and listen more so that athletes can be athletic. And, when a change is warranted, we need to make sure it's a tinker and not an overhaul - and it's important to give an athlete or client and ownership stake in the process.

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What Albert Pujols Taught Me About Swing Mechanics

Today, I've got a guest post from Bobby Tewksbary. Bobby has quickly established himself as one of the premier hitting instructors to professional and amateur hitters alike over the past few years. You might also recognize him as the guy who threw to Josh Donaldson at this year's Home Run Derby. I enjoy Bobby's stuff, and I'm sure you will, too! Be sure to check out his Elite Swing Mechanics E-Book, if you haven't already; it's fantastic stuff.

A lot of folks heard my name for the first time after this year’s Home Run Derby, where I pitched to Josh Donaldson. However, I never would have had that opportunity if I hadn't seen this swing of Albert Pujols in 2009. That was when I first saw Pujols doing something with his swing mechanics that most people don’t realize.

Pujols7

Even if you have studied the swing, you might be shocked or surprised at what you can see Pujols doing. It defies so much of what passes as "common wisdom" among hitters.

Over the last 6+ years, I’ve studied tens of thousands of hours of hitting video to better understand the swing and what makes Pujols’ (and all the other all-time greats) so special. I’m excited to share some of the most important things I’ve learned so you can improve your timing, power and batting average!

Albert Pujols’ Swing Mechanics

What exactly are we talking about? We are talking about swing mechanics and the movement Pujols uses to create consistent timing while being able to hit for power and for average.

Pujols7-Iso-3

When Pujols’ rear knee and hips are turning forward, his hands aren't going down… they are going up and back. Watch this clip a few times - study the hands, the hips opening, the rear knee.

This is very different than what I thought was right and it is very different than what most hitters are taught! Conventional instructions call for things like “take your hands/knob to the ball”, “stay inside the ball”, “stay on top of the ball.” In the big picture, these aren’t completely bad things but they are very incomplete.

I still remember how I felt when studying the swing the first time: How I swung the bat was very different than how Pujols and other great hitters swing. If Pujols was doing something different then me, then I was definitely the one doing it wrong!

A Deeper Look at Albert Pujols’ Swing Mechanics

The really special part of Albert Pujols swing is revealed in his barrel path. This is the secret behind his elite mechanics and what creates his good timing and his ability to hit for power and average.

Pujols-HRD-Iso

Before, we saw how Pujols’ hands were working up and back while the hips were opening. Now we can see how his barrel is moving! When his hips are opening, his barrel is not moving toward the ball; rather, it is working deeper and flatter.

This is where Pujols is creating his timing for his swing. Instead of the barrel working TOWARD the ball, he is creating time by getting his barrel into the zone deeper. And because his barrel is working back and not forward, he is able to stop his swing if the pitch is not a strike. This gives him very adjustable timing.

Another key component to this movement is how short and quick his swing becomes. The lower body has already opened/cleared and the barrel already has speed. The swing's finish is very short, quick and explosive.

Pujols-HRD-Finish

Look at how fast this is - and how hard it is to see this movement in "real time!"

Hitting for Power and Average

We know Pujols’ barrel moves deeper to start the swing, but how does this help him hit for both power and average?

The barrel is working onto the plane of the pitch earlier so the barrel stays in the zone for a very long time. This gives a very “long” zone in which he can hit the ball hard. Plus, when his barrel is going back, his lower body opening. This is creating an ideal swing sequence where the lower body’s turn happens first which transfers energy “up the chain” and all the way to the barrel.

In addition, the barrel is “inside” the ball later and works through the zone with great swing direction. The barrel gets behind and through the ball without having to guide or steer the bat. If you play golf, think of this as getting a good swing path and driving through the ball and not cutting or hooking!

Here is one more look:

Pujols-Albert-2015-HRD-Cage-2

The swing is built to hit the ball with power to all fields!

Teaching These Swing Mechanics to Other Hitters

Most hitters are taught a swing to either “push” the bat to the ball (linear hitting) or to pull/rotate the bat to the ball (rotational hitting.) Both of these swing styles create issues for hitters with their timing. Push/linear hitters tend to make more contact but lack power. Pull/rotational hitters will have more power but hit for lower average.

I call the pattern Albert Pujols uses "Elite Swing Mechanics." I use the word “Elite” because it is the swing the all-time great hitters use and continue to use. I’ve worked with Josh Donaldson, Chris Colabello (Toronto Blue Jays) and Cressey Sports Performance Client A.J. Pollock (Arizona Diamondbacks) - and hundreds of youth, high school and college players others on developing these Elite Swing Mechanics.

The first and most critical step is to developing better swing mechanics is to understand swing mechanics. The more you understand the swing, the more deliberate you can be about how you work. And when you improve your swing, you increase your abilities and performance as a hitter!

One thing that I really try to communicate to people is that I’ve never tried to invent anything with the swing. I’ve studied tens of thousands of hours of video to try to understand what the best hitters in the history of the game have done. The game tells showns us what works and the all-time great hitters all use the same swing mechanics. Whether I'm working with a pro guy or a younger hitter, the goal is the same: I try to help hitters understand the swing. If a hitter doesn’t understand the swing, then they are taking a huge risk with this very important skill. When a hitter understands how their swing works, it causes a few really good things to happen.

1. Increased Accountability - The hitter will take ownership of their swings in their training and games.

2. Learn from Failure Faster - Hitters will diagnose their failure faster and be able to make adjustments faster.

3. Trust in the Process - Hitters will trust their long-term plan. Go to work each day knowing you are building in the right direction.

The single most common comment I hear from professional hitters is, “Why didn’t anybody tell me this sooner?” Technology has made is possible to gather video and study hitters in ways that haven’t been possible before. The game is advancing and pitchers are currently WAY ahead of hitters. The first step toward building this knowledge is my Elite Swing Mechanics E-Book + Instructional Videos.

TH-Book-Video-combo

About my Elite Swing Mechanics Book + Instructional Videos

I wrote my book to help share what I’ve learned about the swing. This book isn’t a traditional book though. I’ve tried to create a product that takes advantage of technology to help reach hitters with all learning styles. This is what makes up my book:

*120+ page Elite Swing Mechanics PDF eBook
*Video instruction of keys points and drills with over 2 hours of total video instruction
*Audio version of book so you can listen to the book on your iPod/iTunes
*14-day follow up email program walking you through the information with videos and articles
*Lifetime Updates
*Bonus Articles & Exclusive Offers
*Money Back Guarantee - If you don't learn from this product, I'll give you a full refund.

Don't Take My Word For It

"I was introduced to Tewks' stuff two years ago and what he teaches has helped me progress as a hitter. I look at the swing with a completely different perspective now. I wish I knew the TRUTH in high school!" - A.J. Pollock

"Want to understand your swing? Bobby was one of the first guys who helped me understand the true mechanics! I 100% believe in his philosophy and I know it’s the TRUTH!” - Josh Donaldson

“The information was a game changer. What Bobby showed me taught me to do things I couldn’t do before. I learned how to swing better and it enhanced everything about me as a hitter.” - Chris Colabello

NOTE: The lifetime updates is a big reason why this is a digital product. I constantly perform research and learn more ways to communicate the movements of the swing. When I find new details or new wording that helps hitters, a digital product allows me to issue an update in ways that a printed book or physical DVD cannot. This is all about helping hitters, so this digital product format allows me to do that best.

Click here to learn more and purchase!

If you have any questions, you can reach me at bobby@tewkshitting.com. 

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Hip Extension and Rotation in the Baseball Swing

Today's guest blog comes to us from Jeff Albert, one of the bright minds in the world of hitting instruction. I've enjoyed Jeff's stuff for years, and I think you'll like it, too.

Hip extension is a getting a lot of attention in the fitness world these days. Eric Cressey was asking us to get our butts in gear back in ’04, ESPN recently made a Call of Booty, and we now have our very own glute guy, Bret Contreras. Kettlebell swings, hip thrusts, deadlifts, and squats are staples of exercise programs for athletes for good reason: they make the posterior chain stronger and more explosive. This, in turn, makes it easier for athletes to do things athletes are supposed to do - like run faster and jump higher.

But how is this going to help with your actual skills? What is the role of hip extension in the baseball swing?

EMG studies in both baseball (Shaffer et al 1993) and golf (Belcher et al 1995) report highest muscle activity of the primary movers of the posterior chain – the hamstrings, glutes and low back – happens during the beginning of the forward swing. The exercises listed above are often programmed because they target the same muscles. Very conveniently, those muscles are also responsible for creating rotation in the swing.

Here’s the key point: good hip rotation has an element of hip extension!

This is what it looks like from the front and side in the swing:

Check out the belt line as the hitter transitions from landing with his stride foot to making contact. This is the actual unloading of the hips during the forward swing. You should be able to see how the hips (belt line) lower into flexion (load) and then actually come up a bit as the hips extend (unload).

Unfortunately, the baseball EMG study only measured muscle activity on the back leg. The golf EMG study, however, measured both legs. An interesting point from this golf study is that in the initial forward swing (from the loaded position to horizontal lag position), activity in the quads (vastus lateralis was measured) of the lead leg was higher than the posterior side (glutes, biceps femoris, semimembranosus). This makes sense because the front side is accepting some shifting weight during this time. But, when the club is being moved from the horizontal lag position to contact, the hip extenders again become more active. Baseball instruction commonly refers to having a “firm front side”, but we haven’t talked much about how that happens. This golf EMG suggests that extension at the hip, rather than knee, is more responsible for creating this effect.

Keep this in mind if and when you are working on the lower half in your swing. Very often players can show a nice, powerful hip rotation and extension pattern in the gym (throwing medicine balls, for example), but look much different when they pick up a bat in the cage. Differences in terminology that you’ll find between the gym and the batting cage can often be a cause of this, and sometimes players just don’t make the connection between their physical conditioning and their actual swing.

If you do struggle with rotation of your lower half, give some thought to the hip extension and rotational work that you do in the weight room and pay attention to the patterns that you’re developing there. First of all, make sure your hip extension and rotation are good in the first place, and then see if you can repeat the movement pattern when swinging the bat. The whole point in creating strong, explosive hip rotation in the weight room is so you can actually use it to create more power when you finally have the bat in your hands.

Happy Hacking!

About the Author

Jeff Albert is a CSCS with a MS in Exercise Science from Louisiana Tech University. Jeff is entering his 6th season as a coach in professional baseball, now serving as a hitting instructor in the Houston Astros organization. He works with players of all ages during the off-season in Palm Beach, Florida and can be contacted through his website, SwingTraining.net, or follow him on twitter (@swingtraining).

References

1. Bechler JR, Jobe FW, Pink M, Perry J, Ruwe PA. Electromyographic analysis of the hip and knee during the golf swing. Clin J Sport Med. 1995 Jul;5(3):162-6.

2. Shaffer B, Jobe FW, Pink M, Perry J. Baseball Batting: An Electromyographic study. Clin Orthop Relat Res. 1993 Jul;(292):285-93.

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