The Load Phase
We can frame this any number of ways, but the truth is this. If you want to be an elite player you have to be able to accelerate the barrel to top speed as quickly and as efficiently as possible. You do this in the Load phase of the swing. This is the time from which the player lifts his front leg to the time his front foot lands, and as illustrated in the graphic above hitters do this in a variety of ways, but in every case barrel acceleration is the ending outcome. Of course, I am biased to data and measurement so getting a Diamond Kinetics sensor, which is the only sensor that measures acceleration, is vital to learning the individual movement patterns of the specific player and guiding them to creating the best load phase that matches their movement profile best.
What does this mean? Some players have more mobility and muscle laxity than others. Think Josh Donaldson (high mobility and laxity) vs. Paul Goldschmidt (low mobility and laxity), but they both achieve the same outcome.
Keys to the load phase
Hip Hinge and Posture: By hinging at the hips, the hitter reduces the distance the bat head has to travel. If we stand up tall, the bat simply has to move further than needed. Hinging the hips properly engages the glutes and braces the core for power production and transfer. It’s simply crucial to hip hinge in the swing. Take Ken Griffey Jr., as an example. You don’t see the big load actions of some players, but you do see that his move starts and coordinates from a perfect hip hinge and excellent spine angle/posture.
Space: Creating space with the upper body helps the hitter accelerate the barrel deep in the zone and arrive on plane early with the incoming pitch. There are a couple of key points in creating space. 1. The hands should always stay spaced between the elbows creating a consistent “triangle”. 2. The hands should always stay inside the back elbow and should be pulled back using the low trap (the muscle around the scap) and the lat (the muscle under the arm). Players that push their hands back in an attempt to create space will create “too much” space and lose their spacing which in turn, will kill their ability to create consistent sequencing of acceleration. See Andrew Mccutchen maxing out his space to accelerate the barrel below. Cutch isn’t a big guy so he needs everything he can get in order to get the barrel to top speed behind the ball.
Removing Slack: The function of the back arm cannot be stated enough in the load phase. In creating space, the player uses several different muscles that remove muscle slack from the system which will allow the energy stored and built in the lower half and released through the force produced in the ground to sequence correctly up the kinetic chain and ultimately out the barrel. Some players can coordinate this move within the stride phase of the swing while others will need to do this in their setup. Regardless all hitters need to remove the slack to get the barrel to top speed as quickly and efficiently as possible. Honestly, there is so much depth to this segment that I could talk for days about it. I love talking to high-level hitters about how they are using their scap, lat, back arm in their swings. Again see Cutch below using the back arm and posterior muscle complex to create stretch and remove the muscle slack preparing the bat to accelerate forward.
Let’s wrap this up and I’ll write another piece on the transition phase of the swing later. Many coaches are following the 80/20 rule which is clearly relevant from the chart I shared in the beginning but in the wrong order. Don’t spend 80% of your time talking swing “mechanics” and cues and 20% load/stride phase when you need to be doing the opposite 80% load/stride and 20% swing (and that’s high) its more like 90/10 or 95/5. Honestly, I spend almost no time talking about the actual execution of swinging of the bat and I work with hitters of all ages and all abilities. They are free to ask questions about this feel or that feel, or I might give them an idea about feel but the swinging of the bat is on them to figure out. So you might ask, how do I “coach” swing? Easy, we swing weighted bats and allow the swing to naturally organize and sequence based on the external intent of the player within the load parameters I outlined above. This creates a dynamic and adaptable swing path we all covet and admire in the top level players. I encourage you to do the same and stop overcoaching swing path!
Gif Sources: Jerry Brewer & Dustin Lind