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.

My Stupid Decision for the Week - and More!

1. I’ll go ahead and lead off with what I hope is my only stupid decision for the week. Yes, it already occurred, halfway through Monday, thank you very much. A couple weeks ago a colleague of mine at Mason loaned me several fancy little devices called Myotests. These little guys look like iPods from about 4 years ago and provide some phenomenal testing feedback. You can run tests on the bench press, half-squat, several vertical jump variations, and something called “stiffness.” The Myotest provides feedback about each test with precision I’ve not been privy to before. It gives readings like Power (W and W/kg), Strength (N), Speed (cm/s), Ground Contact Time (ms), and stiffness (kN/m).

As is my tendency, I dove headfirst into the world of Myotest data. Before resurfacing I was reminded that the Snatch (especially the second pull) can supposedly generate more power than any other barbell movement. So, I decided to do some snatches – you know, for old time’s sake and to see if I’m capable of generating 3000W.

On Friday, I added a few hang snatches to the end of my lift to remember how they felt. The verdict: not too bad, definitely something to work on. Only thing worth noting: I could feel the stretch on my slightly internally rotated right shoulder. Whatever.

Now for the stupid part: Monday, I didn’t have a lift scheduled. On my off days I’ve been making a habit of doing something, really whatever strikes my fancy, to improve my general work capacity and conditioning. So, I decided to do more hang snatches – singles this time, because I’m thinking clearly. Well, long story short, I pulled something in my neck. I’m 99% sure it’s the upper part of my trapezius. Guess which side the pull occurred on… oh yeah, the right side. Should’ve seen this one coming.

So, what are the take home points in all this? 1. Myotests are pretty sweet, and, 2. When you’re training for a powerlifting meet that requires no overhead movements, it’s not advisable to throw in snatch singles on a whim.

2. Over the weekend I was contacted by a publication referencing an article I contributed to several years ago. I had all but forgotten about it, but was reminded that it’s referenced on about two-dozen other training sites. Here it is: Top Ten Reasons Heavy Weights Don’t Bulk Up the Female Athlete. It’s a pretty good read.

3. Finally, for my “No One Cares” tidbit of the day: Ryan and I discovered that adding a turbo charger to Toyota RAV4’s (like the one we have) is “a thing” in other countries. All kidding aside, you can jack these little guys up to produce between 300 to 500 hp! Check out the video below, if you’ve ever driven a RAV you know how amazing this is. We’re considering building ourselves the ultimate sleeper.

In my Half Squat test I generated 2440W, not bad considering I didn't hurt myself and it wasn't one of the fancy, technical, and purportedly superior Olypmic lifts. - Sarah