One of the things I like to ask hitters is, “when do you think you should get barrel speed?”
Most of the time their response is “I don’t know, right before contact?”
I then usually ask, “Well, how do you know where you’ll make contact?” When I ask this, I usually get a blank stare as a response.
The answer is you don’t know where you’ll contact with the ball. So we need to have the ability to accelerate the barrel immediately and maintain that bat speed through as much of the hitting zone as possible.
This is important for a few reasons.
1) Many pitchers and pitching coaches are really becoming smart in the way that they design pitches making the life of a hitter really hard.
Pitch tunneling greatly reduces the time that you have to identify the pitch type, it’s time of arrival and its expected location. All of these things are pieces of information that the hitter needs to be successful. The longer that pitchers are able to keep pitches tunneled the more important early barrel acceleration is.
2) Early barrel acceleration to essential to driving the away pitch.
If you want to drive an away pitch you need to get your barrel moving in the opposite field direction. Since the swing is a rotation of the body and the bat, we have to get the barrel going fast sideways into the zone to be able to generate power in the direction of the opposite field. When force is applied to start something’s rotation the direction of the force is not the direction of the velocity soon after the force is applied. See what I mean below.
So in order to drive away pitches, early barrel acceleration is 100% essential.
Will Myers’ is an example of someone who does that really well. If you want to see what that looks like in a game swing here’s a video I did explaining why Myers’ upper half is so good for away pitches.
3) As stated above, you have no idea where you will make contact with the ball. For this reason, early barrel acceleration is the key for ensuring that you have adequate bat speed when you do make contact.
Now we know why early barrel acceleration is important, but how do we actually do it accelerate the barrel early as a part of our swing?
It all starts with the turn of the pelvis, away from the back shoulder and elbow.
This creates a gradient of potential energy that can be used to speed up the rotation of the torso and the bat. If a hitter can’t open their hips while keeping their shoulders and elbow back a hitter won’t be able to establish early/deep barrel speed. The stretch across the core allows for the hands to be far back enough where when the hands become the pivot point of the barrel it turns back bay the catcher’s mitt. Giving us the early acceleration that we need.
Deep hands and elbow + good stretch across the core = The ability to accelerate the barrel early.
The problem is many hitters either can’t accomplish these movements in their swing or they can’t accomplish these movements at all.
What movements am I talking about?
1)The dissociation of the hips and the shoulders.
A lot of young athletes literally can’t do this movement at all.
How can we expect a hitter to do this (Below).
When they can’t move their hips without moving their shoulders while standing still (like the Post it GIF)? The answer is we can’t. So we need to train the hitter to move their pelvis only first and then we can ask them to do it while swinging. What are some ways to work on hip/shoulder dissociation?
Two of my favorite exercises to learn how to stretch better across your core is this Hip Airplane progression.
Focus on keeping pressure on both hands and not shifting your weight as you turn your knee to the sky. This will tell you whether or not you’re doing a good of of stabilizing your shoulders through the muscles in your back if your weight is shifting from side to side. If shifting side to side is something you struggle with Bear holds and shoulder taps are easy body weight exercises that you should 100% work on.
Without a certain baseline of stability, functional mobility is impossible.
If you’re able to do hands on the ground hip airplanes it’s time to work on one leg balancing hip airplanes. These are much harder but are the most swing applicable hip shoulder dissociation exercise.
It gives the exact feel in your core of a good stretch right before/at heel plant and it simultaneously makes you work on keeping your shoulders still as your hips open while hip hinging and balancing.
If you can do this successfully there’s a good chance you’ll be able to effectively stretch prior to heel plant.
2)The retraction of the scapula (Pulling your back elbow even with/behind your ribcage)
The reality is that you can have the best hip shoulder dissociation in the world and it wouldn’t matter if you were unable retract your scapula. The retraction of your back scapula is what connects your bat to the movements of your hips and shoulders. Without this connection the turn of your body won’t grab you barrel, so you might as well just throw your hands at the ball because your body won’t be of any use if your bat isn’t connected to your shoulder.
Some pretty smart guys in hitting like Jerry Brewer (wish he was still writing) call retracting the scapula creating space. This is a great way to put it, and the position of the back elbow relative to the hitter’s rib cage is the key! If you pull your elbow behind your ribcage and hold it there in your turn you’ll be connected, if your elbow goes in front your arms are on their own.
As I stated in the the video above, the problem with the way a lot of hitters try and create space is that they excessively close their shoulders in order to create barrel depth/early acceleration, this limits their visibility of the pitcher/ball and makes their swing longer than needed to inside pitches.
Ideally hitters should create barrel depth by pulling their back elbow back behind their spine. Sometimes this stuff can be hard to think about without visuals so I’ll use some to help.
This is a shoulder/back warm-up exercise that I have a lot of my hitters do. Not only is it a great exercise, but it illustrates what I mean by behind the spine really well. The ground is what I would call in front of the spine and it acts as a barrier in this exercise forcing the athlete to move away from the ground with their elbows. Often young hitters can’t do this exercise because they don’t have the strength/mobility in their back to pull their elbows away from the ground in this manner.
Once an athlete can pull their elbow behind their spine they need to also learn to pivot their backhand while keeping with elbow pulled back. I few variations I really like for training this are these two drills.
Prone little bat turns (Above) teaches you how to effectively create space with your back arm/elbow (not the turn of your T-Spine) as well as turn your barrel in a tight space.
Pull apart turns helps you put it all together with the rotation of your body as well.
If a hitter can’t hold their back elbow even with of behind their spine while they begin to open their lower half they have no shot at establishing early barrel acceleration. Without early barrel acceleration, your swing won’t be sudden, you’ll struggle to drive outside pitches, and who knows if you’ll have the barrel speed you want when contact is made.
Figure out how to make it happen before the quality of pitching forces the change upon you through failure. I can’t overstate the importance of the movements in this article.
Thanks for Reading!
Kurt Hewes – Director of hitting and Founder of Ignite Baseball
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