How many ballplayers do you know who want to be the world’s best bunter or singles hitter? Not many, right? Most hitters dream of hitting home runs and believe bulking up will give their swing more power.
But strength by itself doesn’t equal a more powerful swing, says Ephram Bailey, CSCS, certified Babe Ruth League baseball coach, high school teacher and certified strength and conditioning specialist. You can be strong as an ox, but if your mechanics aren’t correct, the swing will end up being clunky and uncoordinated. A player may even swing and miss more often.
That’s not to say being strong doesn’t help.
“Even if a player is swinging with incorrect mechanics and can make contact, they can still muscle a base hit,” Bailey explained. “If a player is significantly bigger and stronger, and they swing with proper mechanics, the velocity will increase. As a result, this will translate to greater power.”
Young players typically want to go for the fences every time. A better approach is to focus on bat speed. Coaches should teach their hitters to track the ball, pick up the spin, let it travel through the zone, and react quicker, without shortening the swing. Learning to track the ball through the zone helps them see the ball hit the bat and make accurate contact.
Choosing the right bat is also important, Bailey said. While heavier bats are more difficult to swing through the zone, making it harder to catch up with a fastball, a lot depends on the hitter’s size, strength and personal preference.
Take, for example, two players of the same height swinging the exact same bat. The stronger, more muscular hitter may perceive his bat as lighter. The other batter may have a slower swing due to his slighter build, and may feel his bat is heavier. Which player’s swing will have more velocity? The stronger one will.
Bailey recommends hitters use bats that are light and of good quality. Make sure the barrel meets regulation requirements and the length covers home plate.
Coaches should be careful not to get too caught up in teaching the technicalities of a swing, especially with younger players. Bailey believes all hitters should practice off the tee. For older players, soft toss drills help with timing. A player can swing on his knees with two hands or the bottom hand, and standing and swinging with the bottom hand. The coach can also toss the ball at different angles, such as from the front, side, or even behind the player.
“I write numbers and letters on the balls and have my players call out what they see when they make contact,” Bailey said. “It teaches them to watch the ball closely.
Players 16 and older can maximize power and bat speed through what Bailey calls resistance training. Lower-body strength is just as important as a muscular torso. Squats, leg presses, and deadlifts can help with this. For the upper body, bench press strength has been linked to developing greater power. It’s important to have adequate flexibility, Bailey said. A proper stretching program can result in longer muscles, which provides greater energy throughout the swing.
Exercises for building size, strength, and flexibility should only be done during the offseason. A player’s timing can be thrown off if they engage in such training during the season.
A powerful swing requires more than brute strength. Precise timing, correct mechanics, and faster bat speed might not translate into home runs every time, but are key ingredients to making more accurate contact and driving the ball with greater authority.
From GameChanger and Stephen Kerr.