Almost all hitters are told to bend their knees and get in an athletic position when they step in the box. Ok great, I don’t disagree with knee bend or athleticism, but how are we defining what an athletic/functional stance/setup is? And more importantly, what makes a stance/setup functional?
Let’s start with asking the question, why do coaches tell hitters to bend their knees? I’m not speaking for everyone I’m sure, but most good hitters do bend their knees to some degree.
Here are a few examples.
In all of these stances, (and most others you can find) good hitters have their knees bent. But what they are actually doing isn’t as simple as just bending your knees although it might look that way on the surface. A quality that you’ll notice in all of these hitters is that they both bend at their knees and their hips. So to say, “good hitters should bend their knees” would be true-ish, but also oversimplified.
The problem with telling athletes to bend their knees is that it’s not a specific enough cue, to produce the desired result.
“Ok, Kurt. So what is the desired result?” When we are preparing to make our swing or swinging we’re trying to utilize the ground to pass energy up to our bat to deliver into the ball.
You might be thinking, “what the heck does that have to do with how you bend your knees?” Well, how we bend at our knees and hips changes our weight distribution on our feet in the heel to toe direction.
THIS MATTERS!!! Big time.
Why? Because your toes and balls of your feet are not good at exerting and accepting force. This is why you can deadlift more than you can calf raise and why only a select few people on this earth can support their own body weight while balancing on their toes.
The truth is, in order to capture a lot of energy (from the ground) and pass it up the kinetic chain, we need to connect to the ground as best we can during the early stages of rotation. To do that we need to get our center of mass closer to the ground and use our heels to try and rotate the ground below us, so the ground will then rotate us (Newton’s Third Law).
If we don’t use our heels the amount of force that we can turn the ground with is greatly reduced.
As you can see in the pictures above, the arm/hand and leg/foot are very similar structurally the fingers of the hand and the toes of the feet match, and the heel of the foot and the heel of the hand match, not perfectly, but very close.
Think about how the hand is typically used in a fight. Let’s exclude punching with a closed had in this case. If that hand is open and the striker really wants to exert a lot of force on whatever they are hitting they will use the heel of their hand. Unless your name is Bobby Boucher.
I had to. 😂
Although getting poked in the eye really hurts, a palm (or heel) strike creates much more force.
Who did it better?
I vote Dwight, the look back at that camera kills me.
As I stated earlier, for an efficient swing to happen we need to make sure that we’re exerting as much force into the ground as possible to gather rotational energy from the ground to be passed up the body to our barrel.
In order to do that, the way that we bend our at our knees and hips is really important. Why? Because the angle of our shins, quads, and spine set the distribution of our weight from toe to heel (Yes, I’m really hammering this point).
Notice how Ted Willaims’ shin angle is roughly vertical and his butt is behind his heels. This tells us that his weight is on his heels rather than his toes or balls of his feet. Yes, his knees are bent, but his hips are also bent.
This is so important since the inability to capture energy from the ground results in a lack of power in the swing. Which leads to compensation with the upper body. Your brain and body know that the goal is to hit the ball as hard as possible so if your lower body isn’t producing force your upper body will try to make up for it resulting in hands dominate swings like this one.
Why someone can rationalize swinging like that I don’t know. Swings with no rotation are slower, less forceful, and have a poor plane of attack. I’ll dive into the more another day. But below is an example of what an efficient rotation to contact looks like.
Swings like Braden Bishop’s (above) are impossible without generating a ton of ground force. And generating a ton of ground force is impossible without at least a little bend at the hips (also called hip hinge) since bending at the hips allow for the hitter’s weight to be distributed to their heels.
Here are a few excerpts from an article entitled “Hips Don’t Lie: 3 Drills To Nail The Hip Hinge” by Sohee Lee (text from the article in bold, my commentary is in normal text).
You can read the whole thing here if you’d like. https://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/hips-dont-lie-3-drills-to-nail-hip-hinge.html
“So What Is a Hip Hinge?
“The hip hinge is, in general, any flexion or extension originating at the hips that involves a posterior weight shift.”
Posterior weight shift essentially means weight shift towards the heel and away from the toe. This allows for athletes to be forceful with the ground rotationally using their heels.
“Imagine I’ve got a string tied to your tailbone. Now, if I pull that string back, what will happen? You’ll break at the hips first, not the knees, as you sit your butt back.”
I love this way of describing the hip hinge. In hitters that use hip hinge properly, the bend of their knees is a result of the bend at the hips. So we shouldn’t talk much about knee bend, but we should talk more about hip hinge. Is a kid going to understand what hip hinge is? Maybe not, but you could say something like “move your butt behind your heels” and you’ll get the desired result.
This is something that almost all elite hitters do either in their stance, during their loading sequence, or as they’re getting into heel plant.
Here are a few examples.
See how Betts, Manny, and Bonds all move their but away from home plate (behind their heels) before their turn begins.
So should the knees bend in the stance/swing? Sure, but we shouldn’t cue the knee bend, because when we do we often get this.
This is the opposite of what we’re looking for. You can see in this case my knee are over my shoelaces and instead of being heel connected to the ground, I’m on my toes.
Whereas this is much better. I’m heel connected, and my butt is behind my heels.
If you look similar to Ted Williams (and almost every other big leaguer) you’re probably in good shape.
Thanks for reading,
Kurt Hewes – Director of hitting and Founder of Ignite Baseball