Are You Over-coaching Swing Path? – Chad Longworth Velo Shop

Are You Over-coaching Swing Path?

A few weeks ago I posted the below graphic on Twitter illustrating a deficiency in the approach of a lot of coaches. Again, I used to be one of them.  Coaches spend most if not all of their time teaching and preaching swing path.  In reality, the swinging of the bat is a product of everything that happened leading up to the point where the bat is released forward towards the ball in the last sequence of the kinetic chain.  Let us take a look at a few major league hitters and the actual times it takes to swing.  Note, this is from the time the player lifts his front foot to contact.

Picture

Obviously, there are a variety of times due to different types of strides from the individual hitter, but one thing is very common: the stride occupies the vast majority of swing time. The stride essentially IS the swing.  More specifically, the stride is what allows the body to create “load” or “potential energy”  to set up the body to accelerate the bat in a variety of ways according to pitch speed, pitch trajectory, and pitch location.
Let’s use jumping as an example we can all understand.  The jumper uses a counter-movement of going down to help the jump.  The intent of the jumper is always up, and everything he his doing on the way down is to build power in going up.  Once the jumper reaches the right depth, he isn’t so much focused on the mechanic and function of his left foot so much as he is on trying to get as high as he possibly can.  Hitting is the same way.  Coaches should be focused on helping hitters create the parts in pieces in his load so that when it comes time to hit the ball all he is focused on is the external outcome of hitting it as hard and as far as he possibly can.  The focus on what the top or bottom hand is doing once a hitter reaches his peak load is practically useless in motor skill, and motor pattern governed the outcome the hitter wants to achieve.

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

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