Powerful Hips for Power Hitters

Today we're going to touch on a topic that certainly doesn't warrant a prolix explanation, yet needs to be addressed regardless, as from time to time as I run into folks in the baseball/softball circles - be they coaches, parents, or players - who have been misguided in this area.

How does one improve the power of their swing, in order to make the ball fly farther and faster?

Just to clear the air, there are two primary components that must be capitalized upon: technique, and strength+power.

One can possess all the strength in the world, so much so that it makes Bane look like a utter weakling, but if they lack technique - timing of the swing, proper sequencing of the hips, shoulders and arms; hand-eye coordination to make the ball meet the bat at the precise location - then that ball isn't going to go very far, if anywhere.

Now that that is out of the way, let's look at the other side of the coin, strength+power. Which muscles in the human body are going to be able to harness and produce the most force, in the context of hitting a baseball?

The Hips!

With a capital H. Now, I can see some of you rolling your eyes, thinking, "Well, duh, please tell me something else that's painfully obvious...." but I had to clear this up given that (and I tell you true) I've had people approach me to say that it is the biceps and shoulders that posses the most potential to hit and/or throw a ball.

Excuse me while I go throw my face into a hornets' nest.

Let's all take a deep breathe, relax, and come to an agreement that the hips are indeed king when it comes to power production. To say that it's the shoulders and arms would be akin to saying that you can take a car with brand new, top-of-the-line tires, yet only a 200 horse power engine, and expect it to win a Grand Prix! Of course the tires are necessary to connect the chassis of the car to the road and have it go where you want to, but they aren't of much value without a powerful engine to move them, are they? The arms certainly have their merit in a swing, just as tires do in a road race, but they're both a far cry from the bread and butter we're looking for in terms of power output.

Just ask Miguel Cabrera, Jose Bautista, Bryce Harper, or any of the other big hitters currently instilling trepidation in pitchers all across the big leagues; I'm inclined to believe they'll concur.

Just watch the incredible hip extension+rotation during any number of Cabrera's home runs in the highlight video below.

So how does one develop these oh-so-important hips, to prepare them for prodigious levels power output and be the driving force behind smashing a ball into oblivion?

First, it may be prudent to discuss what not to do, as one can find an alarmingly high number of misguided training practices proliferating among the strength and conditioning programs of little league, high school, college, and yes, professional, levels.

Here's a blueprint if you'd like a sure fire way of attenuating a baseball players' force production:

  • Perform copious volumes of long distance running.
  • Do lots of high-rep, lower body work while in a state of fatigue. Walking overhead plate lunges across a gymnasium would be a perfect option here. Barbell squats in the middle of a circuit, even better.
  • Undergo 300m repeats with only :30-:60 rest between each one. This will ensure that you never fully recover, and become increasingly mired down and slow throughout the season.
  • Whatever you do, don't do deadlifts. They'll only strengthen your entire posterior chain and teach you how to put force into the ground.
  • Instead of deadlifting, bench press three times per week. Putting the health of your shoulders and elbows in jeopardy is key so that you force your hips to pick up the slack.

Now, what TO do?

- Glute and hamstring work becomes your best friend, and anything that develops the posterior chain, for that matter. So, things like glute bridges, slider hamstring curls, RDLs, KB swings, a healthy dose of single-leg work, along with countless other options, are prime candidates.

- Deadlift, but keep the reps low and use plenty of rest between sets, for the love! This is power production we're training for, not an AMRAP contest at the Crossfit games.

Deadlifts are one of the best ways to develop the hips, just don't feel the need to be a hero and use so much weight that your form falls apart (which then shifts all the work away from your hips anyway, and instead fries your spine). And even though you may be using lower rep ranges - say, a set of three - this doesn't necessitate grinding out a three-rep max and continually using maximal loads. Keep the bar speed high, refine technique, learn to feel feel the hips powering the movement, and be amazed as you actually get stronger.

Strength is a skill, not a circus act; keep it as such.

- Squat.

- As I discussed in this article, baseball players need to get outside of the sagittal plane in order to maximize potential in a rotational context. Thus, the various lateral hops/bounds, and lateral single-leg variations will bode well for frontal plane development, and med ball work will take care of most needs in the transverse plane.

- Get the anterior core strong and stable, so that it can resist undesired motion and thus help the hips appropriately transfer force through the entire body

-Sprint! One of the truest forms of plyometric training one can perform, and your glutes and hamstrings will thank you for it.

Unfortunately, many coaches don't know how to administer a sound sprint training program. Keep the distance relatively short, the overall volume low, and rest long enough to be fresh for each sprint iteration. If it looks and feels like a mindless "get your sweat on" show, then that's all it likely is! At best, those "run till you drop" sessions will make you sweat a ton; at worst, they'll make you weak, tired, and slow.

There's no doubt that the hips are a critical, if not the most important, driving force of the musculoskeletal system for just about ANY athlete; hopefully this article helped to shed a bit of light on why baseball and softball players are no exception.

Intro: Overhead Athlete Basics

Note: Any time I use the phrase "overhead athlete" I'm referring to an athlete who's sport requires him or her to bring their arm(s) repeatedly overhead. The most common sports falling under this umbrella are baseball, volleyball, softball, swimming, tennis, and, perhaps the most awesome of the bunch, javelin. 

In the wake of SAPT's inception, back in Summer of 2007, arrived the immediate realization that overhead athletes would be the predominant population we'd be coaching and training within the walls of our facility. In fact, you could have nearly fooled me if you told me that the only competitive sports in the Fairfax, Mclean, Tyson's Corner, Vienna, and Arlington regions were baseball and volleyball!

Sure, we had, and still have, the pleasure of working with a host of people from countless other athletic "categories" - field athletes, track, powerlifting, endurance sports, water polo, fencing (yes, fencing), and military personnel - overhead athletes were and still remain roughly 80% of the folks we get to work with at SAPT.

As such, given such a large and varied sample size, and years to work with these individuals, we've had ample time to manipulate X, Y, and Z training variables to accurately delineate which constituents of a sound training program are going to most efficiently and effectively help the overhead athlete feel and perform at their best.

Throughout the month of August, we at SAPT are going to dedicate our time to providing you with solid and applicable information that you can immediately employ, be you a strength coach, physical therapist, sport coach, or athlete. And hey, even if you don't do anything related to overhead sports, you can still pick up some quality gems related to vertical jumping, shoulder-friendly pressing variations, Olympic lifting, sprinting, and a plethora of other topics that will undoubtedly pique your interest.

The primary reason we are devoting an entire month to the topics of training and management of overhead athletes is that it remains abundantly clear that there still exists a unfortunate paucity of coaches - sport and strength coaches working with youth, amateur, Division I, or Professional athletes - who truly understand the unique demands overhead athletes face, and how to account for these demands both on the practice field and in the weight room.

Due to the awful tragedy of early sports specialization, and the lack of coaches and parents (despite being well-intentioned) who understand how to implement a sound, yearly training model (that includes time OFF the court or field), we are seeing injuries occur in players at the young age of 13 that didn't used to happen until the age of 25 (or ever). Baseball players are realizing too late that's actually not a good idea to throw year-round, and youth volleyball players are experiencing an unprecedented volume of upper and lower extremity issues that could have been prevented simply by taking a season to play a different sport, and/or immersing themselves in a solid strength & conditioning program.

The overhead athlete's arm and shoulder continually undergo insane stressors that need to be accounted for; and not only by the strength coach but the sport coach as well, as they control how many times in a practice an athlete throws, hits, or jumps.

Let's take just a quick look at what a baseball pitcher's arm is assaulted with every time he throws a baseball:

- His humerus (upper arm bone) undergoes internal rotation at roughly 7,200° per second. In case you're wondering, and would like a more scientific way of describing things: that is a crap ton of revolutions in a very short period of time. - His elbow has to deal with approximately 2,500° of elbow extension per second.His glenohumeral (ball-and-socket) joint experiences about 1.5x bodyweight in distraction forces.

And that's just the tip of the iceberg, as we haven't even dived into the other demands the wirst, elbows, and shoulders face, let alone what occurs at all the joints below the shoulder.

These demands simply won't be attenuated by doing a few hundred reps of band work before and after practice, let alone throwing the athlete into the proverbial squat-bench-deadlift program overseen by the high school football coach.

Over the next four weeks, you can expect to find us discussing:

  • Practical warm-ups for the overhead athlete
  • Why power development for baseball, softball, and volleyball players needs to be approached differently compared to many other sports
  • Olympic lifting for overhead athletes
  • The truth about vertical jump training for volleyball players
  • The myriad myths and fallacies surrounding "shoulder health" and "arm care" programs
  • Biomechanical asymmetries - both undesired and desired - that accrue in an overhead athlete's body due to the inherent nature of the sport, and what to do about them
  • Energy system training
  • Nutrition for fuel during tournaments and game day
  • And, of course, as many Star Wars and Harry Potter references that we can find room for
  • And much, much, more

All of us at SAPT are looking forward to the next month together!

SAPT's Baseball Summer Training Program

It's that time of year! Time to get stronger, faster, more powerful, and pack some muscle mass onto your frame. Check out our special offer for baseball players this summer:

For the past 6-years, the coaches at SAPT have been helping pitchers and position players alike achieve their potential on the field. Set up a comprehensive evaluation today and start down your path to superhero status!



Increasing thoracic mobility to improve pitching velocity…

While the majority of the adolescent pitching population is busy this offseason shortening their pec minors on the pec-deck, we’ve got our guys and gals performing thoracic mobility drills aimed at actually improving pitching performance and velocity.  Besides just improving the overall functionality of the student-athlete, incorporating thoracic mobility drills (both extension and rotation) are going to improve their abilities in the “cocking” or “layback” phase of the wind-up. 

Some indicators that suggest the pitcher in your life is in need of some thoracic mobility drills:

1)      He or she spends the vast majority of their day slumped over a desk, then at home on the computer, and then on the couch in front of the TV creating a strikingly similar posture to this cute little fellow…

2)      He or she has complained of, or have battled chronic, elbow, shoulder, and lower-back pain throughout their career.

3)      His or her fastball couldn’t breakthrough a wet paper-bag.

Only about 10-weeks remain until high-school tryouts.  Slowly step away from the bench press, and request a free consultation with the experts at SAPT, so we can “get you right.”

But what do we know…


Our take on "sport specific"

Quite frequently we're asked, "Is this (insert sport here) specific training?"  Here's our take: Understand that all athletes, no matter what sport, need to engage in general movements to enhance their global strength so to speak; these exercise include squats, deadlifts, rows, unilateral movements, horizontal pressing and pulling, vertical pulling etc.  These are, and should be, the bread and butter of every good strength training program.  

We also blend drills that have a bit more dynamic correspondence, or specificity, to one’s sport.  For instance, with our baseball players we incorporate various overhead and rotational drills with light medicine balls to improve velocities on these various planes of motion. 

These occur primarily in the offseason as competing for the energy to develop technical abilities is not as significant.  When implementing, we're careful to not too closely mimic the intricate movement patterns required by sport, i.e. throwing a baseball, as this can lead to a hindrance in the actual development and create inconsistencies with that particular skill.  Read that again; yes, mimicking too closely, or inappropriately weighting a particular movement can actually prohibit technical mastery of specific sport skill.  This is why as one gets closer to a competitive season, and certainly as one is engaged in-season, we wean these drills from the student-athletes program as the acquisition and refinement of sport skills are of paramount importance during this time.

From an injury prevention stand point, we are very cognizant of the stressors placed on the body during various sports, and understand that many of these stressors transcend sports.  As such we tend to focus most of our efforts on these areas in an attempt to combat the repetitive and asymmetrical nature of sport.  Our efforts are also aimed to improve the shortcomings of the individual as each present their own intimate challenges.

Getting strong all day long,


Remember Why You're Here

The other day, one of our baseball guys was deadlifting and, upon finishing his second work set, turns to me and asks if he can put another ten pounds on the bar. Given that his form was less-than-impeccable, I gave him a simple "No." In fact, I wanted him to take it down ten to twenty pounds, as it was his lumbar spine that was buckling (I wouldn't have been as concerned if it was something like failing to keep his neck packed or forgetting to finish the movement with his glutes). He immediately became exceedingly frustrated and started rambling about how he felt like he wasn't as strong as he thought he should be, and that he ought to move UP, not down, for his next deadlift set, how he felt it had been too long since he improved in his squat and deadlift, yadda yadda yadda.

I asked him: "Well, how have you been playing on the baseball field?"

He replies: "I've hit more home runs, my 60-yard dash time improved, and my movement, positioning, and throwing from home plate has become way better as compared to last year." (note: he's a catcher)

I then reminded him that he had averaged only one training session every 7-10 days over the past six months at SAPT (due to in-season baseball and then traveling the country playing on various club/select teams), so he was not only fortunate to have maintained his strength levels in the weight room but also - and more importantly - his markers of sport performance had IMPROVED.

I concluded with: "Don't you think this is a pretty darn good indicator that we have accomplished what you came to SAPT for in the first place?"

Our goal with him was not to put up huge lifting numbers, but to help him become a better baseball player. Does squatting, deadlifting, performing single-leg work, and movement training help us get there? Absolutely, but there's a point where we can't force bad form just for the sake of hitting a weightlifting PR that day. Not to mention, we each get only one spine. Yes, just one. It's not worth destroying it over a 10-lb deadlift personal best.

Now, this athlete is pretty accomplished (committed to a Division 1 program and was one of only two players in the entire Northern Va region to be named to the Nationals roster for the Area Code Games), so I couldn't blame him for wanting to succeed in every endeavor he put himself into. But it reminded me of something I heard from Jim Wendler when he was talking about strength training the football team under him:

"We're chasing wins, not numbers."

So simple and profound. So often we get caught up in the minutia that we forget what our primary goal was in the first place. We can't see the forest for the trees, so to speak.


Don't forget to keep the primary goal, the goal.

- If your goal is sport performance, remember that it's not the end goal to have a gigantic bench press or squat. - If your goal is fat loss, why are you obsessed about your strength levels not being what they used to be? - If your goal is maximal strength development, should you really be performing three to four conditioning sessions a week so that, heaven forbid, your "work capacity" slightly diminishes?

Heck, I remember during the Fall of 2009 I was following a program specifically designed to improve my squat, bench, and deadlift numbers. Yet, I was also performing these insane conditioning sessions multiple days per week (see video below), and wondering why my numbers were stalling!

Note: Yes, if I could go back in time, I'd give myself a quick scissor kick to the face.

My mentality in 2009 reminded me of a football player we're currently working with. He's about 170lbs soaking wet, and has been musing that he can't seem to put on any weight. But when we give him some very practical suggestions on adding some size he responds with, "Well, I also want to keep myself looking good, too."

(Dude, don't worry, your six-pack isn't going to go anywhere if you pack on some size in order to open up a can on the football field).

It's tempting to chase multiple qualities at one time, but I've found that the body responds better to sticking to ONE goal at a time, as opposed to trying tackle everything at once. In other words, it would be better for you attack fat loss, HARD, for one to two months, and then go back to your standard strength-oriented program afterward than it would for you to try and accomplish both (fat loss and setting lifting PRs) at the exact same time.

So, to conclude, remember why you're in the gym in the first place. The big picture, so to speak; and allow that to dictate your choices. Don't miss the forest for the trees.